Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stars new piece for Exclaim.ca

My online interview with Stars' Torq Campbell is a tasty precursor to my full piece in the July Exclaim issue.

Stars’ Torq Campbell Talks The Five Ghosts, “a Return to the Core” and “Spooky Shit”
6/23/2010 By Andrea Warner

The new Stars album, The Five Ghosts, dropped yesterday (June 22), marking a return to the band's original sound: dancing in the dark. "That's actually a great description of it, because that's literally what we were trying to achieve: a sad dance record," Torq Campbell, co-lead singer of the Montreal-based dream pop/rock group, says of the new album in a recent phone interview with Exclaim!

Campbell is excited about Stars' return to form, saying from his temporary summer home in Stratford, ON, "Stars has always seen itself as a sad dance band. We'd kind of gone up this alleyway of writing multi-part dynamic songs, but this feels like a return to the core of what we want to be writing about."

Ghosts caps the band's first decade together. It recalls the group's breakthrough 2004 album, Set Yourself on Fire, but the songs are more propulsive and leaner, though no less lyrically dense; the sonic equivalent of seeing a former flame who looks even better and younger than when you were together.

Ghosts is also a veritable haunted mansion of moody, macabre images, which Campbell attributes to a "heavy year and some painful shit" the band went through together, including the death of his father and a few other romantic heartbreaks (none his own, though). Even the album's title is the stuff of slightly eerie campfire stories.

"I got an obsession with the number five for a while," Campbell says. "I find it a spooky number... oh, and I'm now getting attacked by a wasp!" He puts down the phone for a few seconds. "See, spooky shit, as soon as I say five, a wasp attacks me. That's the kind of flaky shit I say."

He laughs and then launches into how he uncovered that the Five Ghosts is actually a phrase from Chinese feng shui that refers to the energy in the house after a loved one died. "I didn't know that and it seemed very uncanny... [the album] just named itself."

Five Ghosts is out now on Soft Revolution in Canada and on Vagrant in the U.S. In support of the record, Stars will be embarking on an extensive U.S./Canada tour. You can see all the band’s dates here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Joan Cusack interview

My interview with Joan Cusack appears online at WestEnder.com

Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz (Tim Allen), and Woody (Tom Hanks)  return for a new adventure in Toy Story 3.
Jessie (Joan Cusack), Buzz (Tim Allen), and Woody (Tom Hanks) return for a new adventure in Toy Story 3.

Joan Cusack’s reanimation in Toy Story 3

Last weekend, Toy Story 3 finally made it to the big screen, in 3D no less, and like almost every Pixar film ever made, became an instant classic. It’s a nice pay-off after the contentious years-long squabble between Disney and Pixar, which ended up delaying the third installment of the franchise for over a decade.
It’s been 10 years well spent. It’s not just that the film is visually stunning (though it is), but that it’s an emotionally resonant story of growing up, moving on, and celebrating the simple pleasures of play. Joan Cusack spoke with WE about her cowgirl character, Jessie, meeting James Bond, and the business of being animated. [Editor’s note: Warning, some story spoilers ahead.]
WE: Was the script as emotional to read as the film was to watch? Because good lord, did I cry.
Joan Cusack: Really? Actually, I expected it more this time, because when I did Toy Story 2 I’d never even done an animated movie at all. There really isn’t a script that you read beforehand, you just kind of meet with the producer and the director — well, it was over four years for this one. You see them once every six months and then once every three, then two months, and you’ll do little pieces of the story, but you don’t even know the whole story all together. When my son was sitting next to me at the screening we went to, he’s like ‘What’s going to happen next?!’ and I’m like ‘I don’t really know!’ [Laughs]
Were you prepared then for the way it came together as a movie? From the bittersweetness of growing up to the terrifying garbage inferno.
I was kind of impressed that they went for it, you know? They really followed the authentic story to its conclusion. They took the story of these toys, that was kind of hinted at in the second one, and said, ‘Well, what happens 10 years later?’ That was so clever. That the little boy’s grown up and it’s such a creative solution to the realities of their situation. You know, just that Disney and Pixar weren’t going to do another one and then, I don’t know, someone bought the other one, and they finally were able to look at the story again. There were so many things that were clever about it. Even just that Buzz was Spanish and that they included our Latin American neighbours in such a nice way. It’s just smart.
Is it strange for you as an actor to be providing one aspect of a character, a voice, that’s obviously incredibly vital, but then trusting a whole other team to put together a face and body and physical motion to it?
It’s definitely different. You couldn’t be in better hands with Pixar, so it’s pretty easy on that level, but it is a different acting chop. Especially in the beginning. I would think I put some emotion in my voice and then they’d play it back and I’d hear it and I would think, ‘No, I must have been using my hands a lot and that didn’t get picked up.’ [Laughs] It’s funny, but you just have to be more animated.
You record in relative isolation then. You and the rest of the cast are never really in the same room together.
No, uh uh. Like, the press junket we did, I did the whole press day with Timothy Dalton, James Bond, which is hilarious to me. I was so taken aback, ‘Oh my God, James Bond all day talking about Toy Story and he was Mr. Pricklepants?’ It’s very imaginative in a way, it’s kind of what kids do. You just imagine everybody has come to life, so you work kind of similarly, so it’s just different.
Do you remember what first attracted you to playing Jessie?
When I first did it, I’d never done anything like that and it was just kind of fun. But then I remember even when we were making it and they were saying something about Jessie and Woody were doing something, I was asking, ‘Ooh, can Jessie save the guy instead of the guy saving Jessie?’ And they were like, ‘Sure, we can play around with that.’ And then I went to Disneyland with my kids when we were out for the opening in LA, and they are lots of princesses and Cinderellas and mermaids and Jessie’s kind of a new kind of Americana, home-grown, doesn’t-need-a-guy girl.
Fully dressed.
It’s kind of cool. It’s like a subtle evolution in a neat way.
That’s really important to show little girls different ways you can grow up, to be self sufficient and equal to anybody else.
Right! And you feel that in society, that it’s happening anyways, and slowly but surely there’s that presence in different professions. It’s interesting that it’s in the movie, too.
It feels very modern in the values that it reflects, particularly how it emphasizes the value of creativity and imagination and getting back to those things we’ve maybe lost a bit.
And playing! I love the little girl, Bonnie. She’s shy but she has this great imagination and passion and love for life. It’s simple. It doesn’t require a lot.
And it doesn’t require money, you know, it transcends one’s station in life to just be able to play with toys you find somewhere and make them your own.
Right, and you personally have taken the time to invest in the way you’re thinking and the way you’re playing. That doesn’t cost anything. It just costs time.
It felt like the movie had some nice closure, but also that it’s poised to move on into something new. Do you anticipate playing Jessie again?
I’ll cross my fingers for that. I think it’s so fun that there’s a little girl at the end with that world. It’s a different world, a girl world, and it hasn’t been shown yet in a modern way. There’s certainly room for a lot of creative storytelling there.
Thanks so much for talking to me.
It’s nice to speak with you, too! And you hang in there, girl reporter! You go too!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Winter's Bone

My piece on Winter's Bone features interviews with director Debra Granik and star Jennifer Lawrence.

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays lead character Ree in the award-winning

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays lead character Ree in the award-winning "Winter’s Bone," credits director Debra Granik for the film’s artistic success. “She asks a lot of questions, which is rare for a director, unfortunately.”

Credit: supplied

Bleak realism key to power of ‘Winter’s Bone’

Writer-director Debra Granik may not be a well-known name, but the buzz bolstering her third and latest film, the critically acclaimed and Sundance award-winning Winter’s Bone, should start to change that. A bleak but beautiful art-house flick, it’s been almost universally lauded as the best film of 2010 thus far — an impressive feat considering it features a cast mostly made up of unknowns and locals from the Ozarks in Missouri, and tackles the subject of backwoods methamphetamine manufacturing and addiction.

Adapted from Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name, Winter’s Bone (opening Friday, June 25) exposes the ravaging effects drugs can have in rural areas, particularly as it becomes virtually impossible to eke out a living from the land alone.

“Surface economies are living in what would be categorically poverty, because it’s not a sustainable way of earning money,” Granik says, over the phone from New York City. “It’s too little, too slow, and variable; it evaporates and closes up and under-employs people... But it always shocks me... trying to be involved or make money from drugs. It’s so unglamorous. It’s weird that so many films have glamorous depictions.”

There’s nothing glamorous about Winter’s Bone. Filmed on location, Granik fully captures the Ozarks’ isolation and rustic beauty, rendered by careful camera work and a lingering, interested eye. It also showcases, without judgment, the barbed-wire loyalty and tension that exists in communities built on survival-by-any-means.

The character of 17-year-old Ree, who is Bone’s beating heart, epitomizes that survival instinct. Already tasked with raising her young brother and sister, and caring for her mentally ill mother, Ree discovers her father has skipped out on his bail — and put their house and land up as his bond. With his court date fast approaching, Ree has to go knocking on some very dark doors to try to get to the bottom of his disappearance and save the family home.

Jennifer Lawrence, the relatively unknown 19-year-old Kentuckian who skillfully portrays Ree, is as frank and direct as the character she plays. She refuses to consider the assertion that her performance anchors the film (because she’s “not a butthead”), but admits that the accolades — and subsequent work offers — pouring in are gratifying, particularly since she considers having played Ree an opportunity to connect with traits she admires in real life. “I like that she doesn’t take no for an answer, and I like that she doesn’t consider failure,” Lawrence says. “I really respect people like that.”

Ree’s strength was also part of what drew Granik to the project. “It’s a good feeling to see a female on screen and be able to root for them and feel like they’re competent, that they’ve got resources and they’re going to use them in different ways,” she says.

Granik was also interested in turning the “so-called coming-of-age story” on its head. “It’s very class driven, how you come of age — like Charles Dickens depicting scrappy kids in London, and it didn’t matter what their education was because they were always learning, either from the streets or elders. You don’t always get a chance to choose who you learn from either. You may learn from criminals, but you don’t have to be one.”

It might be this kind of thoughtfulness Lawrence refers to when she talks about Granik’s attention to detail during filming, from focusing the cinematographer on an icicle melting to depicting the actual skinning and eating of a squirrel. “She’s tremendous,” Lawrence says. “She’s very emotionally accessible. She asks a lot of questions, which is rare for a director, unfortunately.”

Which isn’t to say shooting went off without any hitches. Lawrence admits Granik’s process was occasionally unfathomable. “She has an artistic eye that I have to admit was hard to understand when we were filming, but when I saw the movie I was blown away,” she says. “I remember some of the things she thought were really important at the time [that] I just thought were annoying. Like, ‘Let’s just wrap! Who cares?’ But when I see it, I just think, can you imagine if she didn’t make me do that again? I don’t know if I’ve ever met anybody else who’s got a brain like her.”

Sook Yin Lee and Year of the Carnivore

From WestEnder.com

Sook-Yin Lee on the set of her film, Year of the Carnivore, based on Lee’s own awkward coming-of-age.

Sook-Yin Lee on the set of her film, Year of the Carnivore, based on Lee’s own awkward coming-of-age.

Credit: Supplied

In sex and on film, practice makes perfect

Shy is not a word in Sook-Yin Lee’s vocabulary. The Vancouver-born, Toronto-based renaissance woman (writer, director, actor, musician, and TV and radio host) came out as bisexual in 1995, when, as a VJ for MuchMusic, she spontaneously kissed a woman on-air after the Supreme Court of Canada added sexual orientation to Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She later infamously mooned viewers during her last shift for the same broadcaster in 2001. And four years ago, she almost lost her job as host of CBC Radio One’s Definitely Not the Opera after higher-ups balked at her sexually graphic starring role in John Cameron Mitchell’s movie, Shortbus.

Now, Lee is once again courting controversy as the writer-director of the sexually frank but stunningly soulful Year of the Carnivore (opening Friday, June 18), her highest-profile and most personal feature film to date.

“I really drew upon my first love,” Lee says of her inspiration for writing Carnivore. “I was a gal who was pretty out of touch with myself, my body, my sexuality. I had no boyfriends throughout my childhood and adolescence. When most of the kids were playing spin the bottle, I was not invited.”

She laughs, and continues. “I wasn’t particularly desirable, and I didn’t feel desirable. I was very clueless.”

Lee’s matter-of-fact vulnerability has helped her craft a film that, under the auspices of another director, could have come off as a one-note kink-fest. In Carnivore, Sammy, played by the little-known New York actress Cristin Milioti, is a sexually awkward young woman with a bum leg (a daily reminder of her bout with childhood leukemia) who works undercover security at a grocery store. Eugene (Mark Rendall), a guitarist who busks outside, is the object of her affection. But after the two hit the sheets, he puts the kibosh on a relationship, telling Sammy she needs more experience in the bedroom before they can take things further. She takes his instruction to heart, with results that alternate between hilarious, heartfelt, and positively criminal.

Lee gleefully recounts just how much she mined her own past to flesh out Sammy and Eugene’s journey. As in the film, Lee was also a young woman who needed liquid courage to spill her guts. Literally.

“I felt I needed to confess my feelings, so I got incredibly drunk, because I had no confidence, no courage,” says Lee of the man who jilted her and inspired Carnivore’s central storyline. “I actually fell down the stairs of the Savoy Nightclub in Gastown before picking myself up, going over to his warehouse, and confessing my love. Then I proceeded to vomit all over him. He was really endeared to me, but also really upfront that he didn’t want to be in a relationship and that I was really terrible in the sack.”

Lee describes her ensuing years acquiring sexual experience as the work of a “zealous overachiever.” Eventually, she and her would-be paramour found their way back to each other, but not before making plenty of mistakes along the way.

“The fact of the matter is no one’s really great [at sex] from the get-go, and it rarely plays out like in romance novels or romantic movies,” Lee says. “People aren’t as... well, they’re more fumbly in real life. I really do love the inverted romance and people finding each other, but they have to earn it, they have to go through some hard knocks.”

Some of Sammy’s hard knocks include a variety of interactions that are sure to rile more conservative moviegoers, but even the most overtly shocking scenes (a threesome to help get over the hurdle of postpartum depression) touch on the truth that a good relationship needs good sex and communication to survive. Lee knows, however, that she can’t control the audience’s response to Carnivore’s casual depiction of sexual exploration.

“If people are outraged, that’s their own reaction,” Lee says, laughing. “What I try to do, on Not the Opera and in my writing, is bring myself to the story and the ideas we’re exploring. Not in a way that’s simply navel-gazing, but there’s usually something at its core that I wish to share with people that’s hopefully really useful to them as well. All of my work is drawing from a place of wanting to communicate and connect and share experiences that I’ve been privy to.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sex and the City 2 and my walk of shame

SATC2 simply offers glimpses of characters we used to know. My thoughts for Life as a Human.

I’ve never been ashamed of myself for genuinely loving the HBO television series Sex and the City. I was in my 20s during the height of its popularity, navigating my own mine field of relationships, friendships, and how sex figured into all of those equations.

A lot of people vehemently objected to the show’s depiction of women: overly glamourous, narrowly defined, and ridiculously promiscuous, but frankly I only saw it as a slight exaggeration in some ways (the high heels) and woefully under-selling in others (women talk way more crassly than this quartet).

Continues here...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sharon Jones

My interview with the wonderfully awesome Sharon Jones is in this week's WE.

Sharon Jones:  “You can’t tell me how to sing soulful. You write the music and put the lyrics down and let me bring it to life.”

Sharon Jones: “You can’t tell me how to sing soulful. You write the music and put the lyrics down and let me bring it to life.”

Credit: supplied

Sharon Jones is always “ready for soul”

It’s almost impossible to imagine 54-year-old Sharon Jones, lead singer of the Dap-Kings, at the mercy of anything, let alone a flat tire. She’s a tornado of a presence on stage, infusing every lyric of the soul-funk revivalist group’s songs with a lifetime’s worth of soul. WE’s first scheduled interview with Jones is bumped due to freeway blow-out that leaves the group stranded between gigs. But Jones and the band are used to encountering a few bumps on the road — their fourth album, a brilliant collection that recalls Motown at its best, is titled I Learned the Hard Way, after all.

Young people who love your music are discovering your mentors, like Mavis Staples. How does that feel?
Jones: It’s so great. And to see the young kids — people keep sayin’, “Why are there so many young people?” And I’m like, “Do you understand that it’s college students who got us where we are?” They were into this internet and the web and MySpace and all that stuff. I never would have thought that young people like what’s-his-name, Mark Ronson, and Amy Winehouse — I didn’t know about them, but they knew about us. They tried to imitate us, but they couldn’t do it, so they had to come to us. [The Dap-Kings served as back-up band on much of Winehouse’s Ronson-produced Back to Black album.] And that won them a Grammy. That says to me, yes, my day will come. That’s what I come back to again with I Learned the Hard Way: Nothing comes easy to me. (Laughs)

What role did music play in your life growing up? Did you always want to be a singer?
I was seven or eight years old, down south, and it was Christmas, and they dressed me up like an angel even though I was a little devil — my sister was like, “We should put some horns on her head!” I did “Silent Night,” and people went, “Ooh, that little girl can sing!” From that point on, I was always imitatin’ everyone. Then Aretha hit the scene — and I mean, James Brown had a big influence on my life, but Aretha! I wanted to play the organ and do the gospel songs, and that’s how I learned to play the piano, too: just imitatin’ everyone. And then meeting [the Dap-Kings] in the ’90s... I was ready. I was ready for soul. When I went in with them, they would just write the music and the lyrics and give it to me to sing — “Here, Sharon” — and I’m gone. It’s not like they gonna give me a melody and tell me how to sing the song soulful; you can’t tell me how to sing soulful. You write the music and put the lyrics down and let me bring it to life.

What about getting into the character of a song?
I’m gonna tell just you about one time. Most people don’t know this. When [debut Dap-Kings album] Dap Dippin’ came out, and I had to sing that song “Make it Good to Me” — I can’t even think about it, ’cause I wasn’t in the mood and I hate singin’ that song. I was breakin’ up with a guy, and I just couldn’t sing a love song. (Laughs) That’s when the acting part comes in.

You’ve had the opportunity to do a bit of acting in the past [a bit-part in The Great Debaters featuring Denzel Washington]. Do you want to keep pursuing that?
Yeah, definitely, with the right part. The way you get into the songs, comin’ up with character — I could do that. Gotta be a good character. Nothin’ crazy.

Like, maybe you don’t want to kill a man.
Nah, I probably would. Imagine he’s my ex, and be like, “Yeah, I’d kill that fucker!” (Laughs)

The New Domestics!

My cover story for this week's WE!

Lili Nedved and Henry Sinha in their Spool of Thread Sewing Lounge.

Lili Nedved and Henry Sinha in their Spool of Thread Sewing Lounge.

Credit: Doug Shanks

Homemaker? Hipster? Both?

In eighth-grade Home Ec, I faced the wrath of an uncomprehending teacher who couldn’t fathom why I’d sewn a hem on the wrong side of my apron for the third time. Weeks later, she was equally bewildered as to why I couldn’t master making a simple pasta or baking a batch of cookies. Her eyes said everything when she regarded my failures: “But you’re a girl!”

Well, yes, and damned if I was going to be good at cooking and baking and sewing simply because of my lady parts.

That defiance served me well enough — until a few years ago, that is, when I noticed that a new, differently inclined generation of feminists had blossomed while I was looking elsewhere. Let’s call them the Hipster Homemakers, a league of extraordinary women (and a few good men) who have repurposed the trappings of old-fashioned “wifely” duties, and in the process have created business opportunities, fostered community, and made art.

Lili Nedved, co-owner of Spool of Thread Sewing Lounge, Vancouver’s first and only social sewing facility, which opened its doors June 5, believes this new wave of craft-friendly feminism is responsible for helping women make peace with past social norms and expectations. “What’s more feminist than choice?” she asks. “The greatest thing about now is we can choose to do whatever we want to do, and whether that’s sewing or baking or archery, the most feminist thing you can do is just carve your own path.”

Nedved and partner Henry Sinha have set up Spool of Thread in a renovated warehouse space, where they offer six digital sewing machines and a cutting table for visitors to rent by the hour. They oversee numerous sewing classes themselves, in addition to others led by outside instructors, with June’s options ranging from Sewing 101 to vintage-blouse making. Another component of the space operates as a retail store, offering a brilliantly vivid pallet of coloured fabrics and patterns for sale. It’s a quaint idea that’s deceptively business-savvy: Over 500 people had signed up to the store’s e-mail list before the doors even opened.

The city’s embracing of this movement has evolved steadily over the last five years or so, and the resulting success of predominately women-driven marketplaces like Portobello West, Got Craft?, and Make It, has shown just how chic DIY can be.

And the trend has moved beyond making things to baking things. Coco Cake, a home-based cupcake business started by Lyndsay Sung, has played a starring role at the monthly Blim Community Market in Mount Pleasant, while Connie Mar started the seasonal Baker’s Market, devoted entirely to edible treats.

Coco Cake is rooted in decidedly nouveau-domestic origins. Sung and her husband received a Kitchen-Aid mixer as a wedding present from Sung’s grandmother, which inspired her to begin experimenting, literally from scratch. “I got obsessed with learning to bake, which in turn led to an obsession with learning to decorate with buttercream, and piping tips like I’d seen in old vintage cake books or wedding magazines,” says Sung. “I’ve never had any professional training. Apart from a basic cake-decorating class, I learned everything from books, lots of experimenting, and lots of practice.”

Sung’s cupcakes and full-sized cakes are marvels of cuteness and retro cool, and are made solely by her. Though she still teaches art to kids twice a week, the bulk of her work and income is derived from Coco, which remains a one-woman operation. She’s a fierce proponent of acquiring know-how, and dismisses the notion that homemaking skills aren’t feminist. “I think everyone should know how to sew or bake, just because they’re great skills,” she says. “It’s very attractive when you meet someone with a great set of varied skills. Skills are underrated these days.”

Connie Mar agrees. Her own love of baking, coupled with an artisan’s approach to enterprise, inspired her to begin the Baker’s Market over a year ago. “There are a lot of ‘closet’ bakers in the Lower Mainland — the ones who love to bake, taste just a bit, then give the rest to hungry co-workers, friends, and family,” she says. “But, after a while, they get tired of eating your goodies, and the bakers have nowhere else to take them, so I wanted to create a fun environment where bakers and foodies could unite.”

Foodies liked what they tasted, and the market evolved from a four-week trial into a full-scale weekly operation from fall through spring. Mar estimates that while at least 20 per cent of the vendors already have established culinary businesses, a further 20 per cent are testing the waters to see if they too can make the leap into commerce.

Martha Stewart, the uncontested maven of domesticity, created an empire by branding and marketing homemakers’ skills; thus, she was arguably the first of this new breed of feminists, making money from skills it was taken for granted she innately knew. But while Stewart’s crafty-ness tends to emphasize an individualist approach, Spool of Thread hopes to foster a supportive atmosphere emphasizing the social aspect of sewing.

Spool of Thread may have already changed the future of quilting for Holly Broadland, founder of the Vancouver chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild, a movement focusing on bright colours and non-traditional patterns that started in Los Angeles in October 2009, gaining such momentum that it became an international phenomenon with guilds all over the world. Vancouver’s first meeting will be held at Spool of Thread on June 17, and membership is already over 50 people. A self-professed “math geek,” Broadland has used the internet to establish a decidedly global quilting community (she’s in a “virtual quilting bee”), but she’s looking forward to using the sewing lounge space to connect with people face-to-face.

Spool of Thread will likely come to mean different things to different people. Even co-owners Nedved and Sinha have slightly varying hopes: Nedved wants to reinvent traditional sewing circles, while Sinha promises a place where “creative dreams come true.”

For people like me, it’s also a place to demystify the process, and Sinha, who was raised by a single mother, is happy to help. He’s thrilled that people are rebuilding their relationships to domestic arts. “As a child, I just had strong women in my life who were great role models,” he says. “It was always strange to me to see any rejection of what I think of as just basic creativity and art. It’s wonderful to see women — and men — come back to it.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Summer stage picks

My summer stage picks are in this week's WE: Summer in the City issue!

Disney's Broadway musical extravaganza, The Lion King, is coming to Vancouver this summer.

Disney's Broadway musical extravaganza, The Lion King, is coming to Vancouver this summer.

Credit: Supplied

Broadway faves and classic plays sizzle this summer

Summer outdoor theatre in Vancouver used to mean one of two settings: the vista of Vanier Park as the backdrop for Bard on the Beach, or the trees of Stanley Park for family-friendly musicals from Theatre Under the Stars. But now the sunny season boasts a bevy of stages — big and small, indoors and out, and some simply metaphorical — many of them home to some of the city’s boldest and most innovative shows. Here are some of our picks to look out for.

Through June:

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

A must-see for the star-making performance from Zachary Stevenson, one-half of the Victoria-based indie-folk band Human Statues, in the title role. And while the story merely glosses over Holly’s fascinating but all-too-brief life, the music is pure magic. To July 11 at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Tickets from ArtsClub.com.

Bard on the Beach

Alessandro Juliani in Henry V

The Shakespeare festival is full of familiar faces again this year, like local acting treasures Jennifer Lines and John Murray (both on the Mainstage in Much Ado About Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra) and theatre power couple Meg Roe and Alessandro Juliani (Roe directs Juliani in Henry V on the Studio Stage). Where the company breaks from tradition is with the addition of Falstaff, Errol Durbach’s modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I and Part II. Opening June 12, with plays running in repertory to September 25. Tickets from BardOnTheBeach.org.

Dances for a small stage 22

Cori Caulfield performs in Dances for a Small Stage 22

This popular contemporary dance series confines its artists to a 10x13’ stage. June 16-18 at The Legion on Commercial Drive. Tickets available at the door. Info:MovEnt.ca.

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

This Tony Award-winning Broadway musical is cuter than Cats and twice as endearing. Follow a group of spelling-bee misfits through the trials and tribulations of pre-pubescence. June 17-July 31 at Granville Island Stage. Tickets from ArtsClub.com.


Combining dance, theatre, music, and multimedia technology, this triple bill of Canadian premieres is presented by Vancouver’s famed Turning Point Ensemble. June 17-20 at Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. Tickets from SFUWoodwards.ca.


Theatre Under the Stars

Old-school charm reigns with alternating nightly amateur performances of Singin’ in the Rain and the Andrew Lloyd Webber family favourite, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. July 9-Aug. 21 at Malkin Bowl. Tickets from TUTS.ca.

Disney’s The Lion King

The touring production of the Tony Award-winning Broadway extravaganza based on the beloved animated film, itself inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Family-friendly fun for everyone. July 13-Aug. 8 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets from Ticketmaster.com.


Fighting Chance Productions tackles Hair

The rockin’, revolutionary musical about peace, love, and grooviness seems the perfect follow-up for the young rebels of Fighting Chance Productions, who wowed audiences with a superb production of Rent last summer. July 21-Aug. 1 at Waterfront Theatre. Tickets from TicketsTonight.ca.

Neanderthal Arts

A brand-new festival featuring independent theatre from four local and two national companies, it also incorporates the Walking Fish Showcase, a series of short pieces by emerging artists. July 21-Aug. 1 at The Cultch. Tickets from Thal.ca.

Cirque du Soleil

The familiar blue and yellow big-top returns with Kooza, a show that revisits the famed company’s circus origins of acrobatics and clowning. July 22-Aug. 22 at the Grand Chapiteau at Concord Place (next to Science World). Tickets from CirqueDuSoleil.com.

Glengarry Glen Ross

This one has plenty to recommend it: Tony Award-winning playwright David Mamet, television star Eric McCormack (Will & Grace), vicious, incendiary commentary on corporate culture, and lots of fucking swearing. (See our interview with McCormack on page 29.) July 22-Aug. 22 at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Tickets from ArtsClub.com.


Blue Surge

TwentySomething Theatre presents the Canadian premiere of Blue Surge.

A small-town cop falls for an 18-year-old hooker in this Vancouver debut from emerging company TwentySomething Theatre, the brave upstart founded by Sabrina Evertt. Edgy, provocative fare that makes a perfect capper to the last sultry nights of summer. Aug. 24-Sept. 5 at Studio 16. Tickets from TicketsTonight.ca.

Robin Hood

For a third year, ITSAZOO Productions continues its tradition of turning Queen Elizabeth Park into the city’s best roving outdoor theatre venue. Playwright Sebastien Archibald is likely putting a terrifically unique spin on the tale of the lawless folk hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Dates and ticket info TBA. Visit ITSAZOO.org for more info.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Barenaked Ladies

My interview with the Barenaked Ladies appears in this week's Charleston City Paper.

Barenaked Ladies persevere with dignity and humor

No respect? No problem...

Barenaked Ladies

In the band's 20-plus years in the music industry, almost no one has ever said the Barenaked Ladies were cool. But the Canadian quartet, previously a quintet, never much cared for being hip; after all, they'd already triumphed in the popularity contest. They made it big in their native land with an energetic debut, Gordon, in 1992, subsequently releasing albums every two years until their American breakthrough Stunt in 1998.

Their sound was catchy, their humor infectious, and their songs ubiquitous. From "One Week" to "If I Had $1,000,000" to supplying the theme song to one of the most popular shows currently on television, The Big Bang Theory, there's scarcely a corner of pop culture BNL has left untouched. In Canada, they even have their own flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. And it's delicious.

Drummer Tyler Stewart calls after a soundcheck before one evening's sold-out show. He's in a good mood, receiving plenty of positive reviews for BNL's most recent album, All in Good Time (Raisin' Records/EMI). It's also the band's most important album in the last decade: It's their first since founder and co-lead singer Steven Page left the group in a tornado of controversy in 2009.

"Losing Steven was essential," Stewart says. "It had to happen. He was at a point, I think, creatively where he wasn't as satisfied as he could have been. I don't think that's anyone's fault, but he started to drift away. All the personal stuff for him that went along with that, he just got further away from the band, and it just got really difficult to manage the relationships in the group with that dynamic, so it was best that he left."

The personal stuff Stewart refers to sent tabloids into a feverish frenzy and cast the seemingly wholesome BNL in a brand-new light. In 2008, just days before the group was set to play several large-scale shows as part of the Disney Music Block Party series, Page was busted with a bag full of cocaine in a New York apartment.

The first single off the new album, "You Run Away," is a down-tempo number with telling lyrics: "But you run away from me/I tried to be your brother/You cried and ran for cover."

Stewart stands by the group's decision to address Page's departure this way.

"Obviously, the subject matter's very close to home," Stewart says with a little laugh. "But there's no elephant in the room. That's part of our story, but it was good and cathartic to lead with that."

The good news for BNL fans is that All in Good Time sounds like regulation BNL. The gaping hole many expected by Page's departure has been mostly filled by the remaining four swapping responsibilities and instruments like partners at an orgy. Singer-guitarist Ed Robertson now shares vocals on a variety of tracks with keyboardist Kevin Hearn and bassist Jim Creegan. Even Stewart's pipes are getting a workout this time around, and he couldn't be happier about the collaborative process.

"It makes for a fun recording process when you're firing on all cylinders and can really stretch out," Stewart says. "It's like any relationship. You have to find ways to spice it up and keep the flame alive. And since at this point none of us are sleeping with each other, we can't use sex to spice things up."

Easy jokes and quick wit are BNL staples, evident in interviews, onstage banter, and, for better or worse, the group's songs, including "Be My Yoko Ono," "Alternative Girlfriend," and the aforementioned "If I Had $1,000,000." Even after two decades, BNL is often considered the musical equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield: They ain't got no respect.

"I can't worry about it anymore," Stewart says. "Back in the day, while wearing shorts and jumping around like energetic 20-year-olds, I couldn't blame people for thinking we were a joke. But it's a different story now ... I can't even think about whether or not people are going to take it seriously. I just know we take it seriously, and we're having a good time."

Cool Conversions

My piece on Vancouver's cool conversions appeared in last week's WE.

An unremarkable former schoolhouse in Strathcona was transformed  into a visually impressive and environmentally friendly five-unit  townhome complex. The Vancouver Heritage Foundation visits it on its  upcoming Cool Conversions tour.

An unremarkable former schoolhouse in Strathcona was transformed into a visually impressive and environmentally friendly five-unit townhome complex. The Vancouver Heritage Foundation visits it on its upcoming Cool Conversions tour.

Credit: supplied

In with the new while preserving the old

It might seem like the work of a magic wand or a pack of gently helpful animated woodland creatures, the achievement of turning decrepit, neglected, or nondescript shells of buildings into fiercely modern — and, occasionally, quaintly retro — homes. Yet a growing number of Vancouver structures are being spared demolition in favour of a fairy-tale ending, and the benefits to our city go beyond the simple cosmetic appeal of a stunning makeover. According to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation (VHF), by salvaging and preserving the past, we’re also going green.

“Demolishing a 2,000-square-foot house sends 60 tons of material to the landfill, 85 per cent of which could have been reused,” says Elana Zysblat, programming director for VHF, an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving Vancouver’s oldest structures and landmarks. “There’s also historical benefit to preserving community landmarks for posterity. An older building that is a landmark, that remains in the community and continues its history, is something valuable.”

The VHF will showcase this emerging trend during a one-day ‘Cool Conversions’ tour, which shows off several successful examples of major renovations, including a former church repurposed as an airy, open-concept home, and the brilliant Strathcona showpiece known as the Schoolhouse. Formerly a two-story stucco eyesore, the Schoolhouse has been converted into a five-unit homestead (three of the units have been sold, while two are currently being rented) that literally stops traffic with its visual daring.

Mark Shieh, a real-estate developer by trade, bought the original Schoolhouse property, and recognized that the benefits of retaining the old house over building a new one were threefold: (1) City zoning would not allow for a new house to have the same square footage as the existing structure, so it made financial sense to retain that highly coveted space; (2) environmentally, it prevented an entire house from hitting the dump; (3) by updating an existing building in a modern way, Shieh was able to challenge traditional ideas of preservation.

“Preservation is not about freezing something static,” Shieh says. “It’s about exploring what is important and why. Is it the building itself? What about the people and the activities that took place here? How do we honour the past while moving forward in a fresh way?”

It turns out Shieh answered his own question. The Schoolhouse has been recognized as ranking among the elite in environmental building practices, thanks in part to David Hamilton of Trillium Projects, who was responsible for overseeing the conversion. Beyond the usual ways of making a building more environmentally friendly (such as low-flush toilets and energy-efficient appliances), Trillium repurposed the original fir joists for new stair treads, handrails, and moulding details; installed geothermal and solar-panel heating; and utilized rainwater collection for watering the permeable landscaping. “The Schoolhouse ended up being the highest standard — Platinum — BuiltGreen multi-family project in B.C.,” Hamilton says. Shieh, meanwhile, calls it a “labour of love.”

Zysblat is encouraged by the Schoolhouse’s environmental impact, and hopes more people adopt this attitude toward conversion projects. “Rehabilitating an old house is probably the most significant recycling and reuse project a family can ever participate in,” she says. “Even Donald Trump says he’s always found that it’s cheaper to use an existing structure, as long as you know what you’re doing.”

Zysblat is also hopeful that projects like the Schoolhouse will convince others that Vancouver’s existing framework simply needs a makeover, that we don’t need to start from scratch. She’s seen the attitude toward conversion projects evolve as the city has grown, and believes large-scale renovations will play a vital role in sustainable urban development. “People love the character of old neighbourhoods such as Gastown and Yaletown, and their proximity to Vancouver’s business and cultural centres,” she says. “In return for cool heritage living spaces and no more commuting, people are willing to give up the suburban fantasy, which has also proven to be too consumptive for many people. This has brought new life to our old buildings and neighbourhoods. With people once again using this existing infrastructure, our urban core gets revitalized.”