Review from Stratford – West Side Story

The hype around Stratford all summer has been Stratford Shakespeare Festival‘s hit production of West Side Story. This is a show I’m sure you’re all familiar with, for all intense purposes the show is a musical version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  This time the rivals are the Sharks and Jets two gangs and the lovers are Tony and Maria.  A couple of songs from the show are America, Cool, Tonight and I Feel Pretty.

Before I get very far into my thoughts of West Side Story I should say that I’m not huge fan of the show, the song I Feel Pretty is enough make someone want to inflict pain on themselves.  With that said for West Side Story is this is a good production.  It’s far from the greatest show ever done at Stratford, unlike some of the reviewers are saying, this year alone I would say A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is better.  Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy are both fabulous as the leads in this show.  The balcony scene is wonderful especially when Nolan pulls himself up the side of balcony for their big kiss.

The show has been getting so much attention that a commercial was made:

I had the opportunity to be a shadow for the show last night and it was a wonder experience. I got to spend the night with stage management during the run of the show. Because of my involvement with theatre as a stage manager I was really looking forward to doing that. It was a great experience.

Guest Post – Michelle Moran

I was asked to host a guest post for Michelle Moran author of a new book Cleopatra’s Daughter.  I have yet to read the advanced copy I have but it’s getting close to the top of my TBR mounds.  I’ve really come to enjoy a lot of historical fiction, so I am quite excited to get this new book.

Without further ado here is the post by Michelle Moran:

Life and Libraries in the Classical Age

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by readers is what life was like two thousand years ago when Julius Caesar walked the corridors of the Senate house and Cleopatra visited Rome. Surprisingly, life for the ancient Romans was not unbelievably different from today. The Romans had many of the little luxuries that we often associate exclusively with the modern world. For example, baths were to be found in every city, and public toilets were viewed as a necessity. The toilets depicted in HBO’s Rome Series are copies of those discovered in Pompeii, where those caught short could find a long stretch of latrines (much like a long bench with different sized holes) and relieve themselves next to their neighbor. Shops sold a variety of wigs, and women could buy irons to put curls their hair. For the rain, there were umbrellas, and for the sun, parasols. Houses for the wealthy were equipped with running water and were often decorated quite lavishly, with elaborate mosaics, painted ceilings, and plush carpets.

In the markets, the eager shopper could find a rich array of silks, along with linen and wool. You could also find slaves, and in this, Roman times certainly differ from our own. While some men spoke out against it, one in three people were enslaved. Most of these slaves came from Greece, or Gaul (an area roughly comprising modern France). Abuse was rampant, and the misery caused by this led desperate men like Spartacus to risk death for freedom.

For those few who were free and wealthy, however, life in Rome provided nearly endless entertainments. As a child, there were dolls and board games to be played with, and as an adult, there was every kind of amusement to be had, from the theatre to the chariot races. Even the poor could afford “bread and circuses,” which, according to Juvenal, was all the Romans were really interested in.

For those more academic minded, however, there were libraries. Although I don’t portray this in Cleopatra’s Daughter, libraries were incredibly noisy places. The male scholars and patrons read aloud to themselves and each other, for nothing was ever read silently (the Romans believed it was impossible!). Other cities were renowned for their learning, too: Pergamum (or Pergamon) was the largest and grandest library in the world. Built by the Greeks, Pergamum became Roman property when Greece was captured and many of its people enslaved. The library was said to be home to more than 200,000 volumes, and it is was in Pergamum that the history of writing was forever changed.

Built by Eumenes II, Pergamum inspired great jealousy in the Egyptian Ptolemies, who believed that their Library of Alexandria was superior. In order to cripple this Greek rival (and also because of crop shortages), Egypt ceased exporting papyrus, on which all manuscripts were written. Looking for an alternative solution, the Library of Pergamum began using parchment, or charta pergamena. For the first time, manuscripts were now being written on thin sheets of calf, sheep or goat’s skin. The result of this change from papyrus to parchment was significant. Now, knowledge could be saved by anyone with access to animal hide. Manuscripts (although still quite rare) were now available to more people. Alas, so impressive was this vast Pergamese library of parchment that Cleopatra asked Marc Antony to ship its entire contents to her as a wedding gift. This transfer marked the end of Pergamum’s scholarly dominance, and is the reason why, today, we remember Alexandria as possessing the ancient world’s greatest library.

Hello World!

I cannot believe how crazy my life has been nuts!  I keep telling myself I need to get back and catch you all up on the reading I’ve been doing and the show’s I’ve seen both at Stratford and abroad.  In the next month I’ll be seeing another four shows, that’s four I haven’t seen yet this season.  I’ll be seeing The Sound of Music in Toronto, Sunday in the Park with George and Born Yesterday at Shaw and the final show is Rice Boy at Stratford.  So, I’ll be posting those reviews as well as the others I saw this past summer.

On top of all this I’ve been doing some house shopping and I’m glad to say that I finally found a place today.  I’ll be moving in October and I’m really looking forward to the move.  I’ve also been working on my application for a new job at work, still be working at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival but the job will be different (if I get it).  The new job would be on the production side of things rather on the phone dealing patrons.  I’m not expecting much to come of my application but I thought it’s not going to hurt to try.

Then I have to get you all caught up on the copious amounts of reading I’ve been doing.  I have quite a few books I have to add the my list of books I’ve read this year.  There are a number of books I’ve really enjoyed but then there have been one or two that have been terrible.  In the last few days I’ve also received a couple of books directly from the authors, the most recent being 54 Water Street by Melissa Strangway.  She told me she’d give me a book in exchange for some attention to the book world.  So here it starts!!

I hope to be more vigilant in the next little while with getting some blogging done.  I’m also looking forward to catching up on what you have all been up to in the last while.

Happy reading everyone.

Wow!

I cannot believe it’s been this long since I’ve written anything on here.  I guess that’s what happens when your life becomes super crazy.  I’ve done some writing and plenty of reading in the time that has passed.  Now that I’ve done my first writing assignment for work (which should be found in the Toronto Star in August) I have some more time to focus on other things.

I shall try my hardest not to neglect my blog as I have in the last little while.  I really don’t know how time got away from me like this, because I have a lot of things to write about on here.  I don’t even know where to start right now.  We’ll I’ll be sure to get into the swing of things again with the usual thing starting tomorrow.  Until then happy reading.

Review from Stratford: Macbeth

On June first the Stratford Shakespeare Festival got it’s 57th Season underway.  It started as it always does with much pomp and ceremony, the Stratford red carpet was rolled out for several parliamentarians and other guests to opening night.  What better way is there to open the season than with what it arguably Shakespeare’s greatest work…Macbeth.  The only way to make this better is by welcoming back one of Stratford’s greatest to the stage.  Having Colm Feore back playing the title role is a really treat.

I have had the opportunity to read some of the reviews that are already out there and I have to say that I disagree with the majority of them.  Many of them disliked the show for the same reason’s I loved it.  It was right after the lights went out in the theatre and music started that I knew I’d adore this production.  

This season Macbeth is directed by the Festivals Artistic Director (Des McAnuff) who is perhaps best know for his other work, namely Jersey Boys.  The music that swells and becomes more lively before the shots go off you know that you’re in the continent of Africa (yeah, this production doesn’t take place in Scotland).  I wasn’t all that thrilled about Macbeth until I heard that the setting would be changed to Africa, and I must say I wasn’t disappointed by this change.

Colm Feore was amazing as Macbeth but then was out done by Yanna McIntosh’s portrayal of Lady M.  The sleepwalking scene was the most amazing thing I’ve seen on the Festival stage.  As she walked out on the stage violently rubbing her hands I was on the edge of my seat.  The other person worth mentioning is Tom Rooney (this is only his second season at the Festival) as the Porter.  I enjoyed Rooney last season but as the Porter he has out done himself.  I’m interested to see how he takes on Puck later this season in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This is really a show that shouldn’t be missed.  Take the opportunity to come to Stratford and see this amazing production of Macbeth.  It runs until October 31 at the Festival Theatre.

Weekly Review # 19

Alright, it’s good to be back.  I’ve been MIA for some time now for a number of reasons but I don’t think I’ll really get into that now.  I’ve spent the time reading, working and attending performances at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (I guess that’s also work, but that’s just semantics).  This past week has been busier than I thought it would be but it’s been a good busy.

This week was the opening week of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  That’s always an exciting time but it’s also a busy time.  The gala opening was last Monday, June 1, and opened with Macbeth.  There were some notable people in attendance that evening, I’ll get into that when I do the review.  

Since last week was opening week this week will be reviews of all the shows that opened at the festival this past week.  I hope these reviews help to spark your interest in some of the shows at the festival this season and if you haven’t been before it may just spark an interested in the festival.

Booking Through Thursday #36

Booking Through Thursday

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

This a really difficult question to answer but here is my best shot!

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird 
  2. The Book Thief
  3. The Gargoyle 
  4. Wild Geese
  5. The Hobbit
  6. Animal Farm
  7. Charlotte’s Web
  8. An Appointment With My Brother
  9. Dracula
  10. We Need to Talk About Kevin
  11. Maus I
  12. The Politics of Jesus
  13. Ragtime
  14. The Cellist of Sarajevo
  15. We Wish to Inform You that We Will be Killed With Our Families

Weekly Geeks 2009-18

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This week, take us on a literary tour of your hometown!

Do you live in a place where a famous author was born? Does your town have any cool literary museums or monuments? Does Stephen King live at the end of your street? Was Twilight set in your hometown?

Share your fun literary facts about the town or area where you live. You can talk about famous (or not so famous) authors who live there, novels that have been set in your area, or any other literary facts that you know about where you live. Feel free to embellish with pictures of places and/or authors, maps of the area, and fun facts about the authors.

As usual, feel free to personalize this. Don’t like your hometown? Pick another! Do you live in a literary wasteland? Feel free to expand and discuss a region. Feel like returning to a place you lived 20 years ago? Go for it!

Have fun…and I look forward to reading about your literary tour!

Living in a town like Stratford offers some unique encounters that wouldn’t happen in just any town.  Living in the home of North America’s largest respiratory theatre.  We have many visitors yearly and sometimes those visitors are people that are writing the books you’re reading, or we watch them weekly on television, or starting in the latest blockbuster. 

It was a while after I was working for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival I found out one my colleagues is a published author.  Melissa Strangway author of 56 Water Street works the in the same department as I do and I hear that she’s working on her next novel.  I feel bad that I haven’t read 56 Water Street but because I work with it’s one that I should work on hunting down and read.  But she isn’t the only author that has called Stratford home.

The other, this one is a stalwart in the Canadian literary world, is Timothy Findley.  He’s an author and playwright known most, perhaps, for Not Wanted on the Voyage a retelling of Noah’s days on the arc.  I found the story exhilarating and couldn’t get enough of it.  One of Findley’s last works was a tip of the hat to the town he called home.  Spadework is a novel set in Stratford.  I read this one while living in Manitoba.  It was great reading something like that because I knew exactly where things were happening and know some of the great Stratford landmarks that his characters would have passed while navigating the Stratford streets.

Those are the authors that I’m aware of that live in town.  I’m sure with some research I would find others that are currently residing here or have lived here.  But I do know we’ve had visitors like Michael Ondaatji, Carol Shields and Margaret Atwood just to name a few.  

I know now that the festival is underway again I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more writers in our midst.

Theatrical Thursday – The Importance of Being Earnest

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The first show that I saw at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.  For any theatre fan this would be a show you’ve probably seen it several time and probably involved with the show in someway.  But it’s a show I absolutely adore.  It’s almost sad how well I know this show, I could deliver the lines along with the cast.

There are a few interesting points about this particular production that are worth pointing out.  First is Brian Bedford is back at the festival.  That is enough to make it worth the trip to Stratford for this show.  He’s a great classic clown.  Bedford is wonderful in all that he does.  If you’ve never been to Stratford the name may not mean much to you unless you take into consideration Brian Bedford is the voice of Robin Hood by Disney.  Bedford is playing Lady Bracknell as well as directing the show.  The other exciting part of The Importance of Being Earnest is that Desmond Heeley is the set designer for the show.  Anytime he creates a set you know your breath will be taken away.

The cast of this production is amazing, you have Sara Topham, Ben Carlson, and the incomperable Stephen Ouimette.  It’s a show I could watch over and over again this season.  Wilde is a wonderful playwright and I find, no matter how many times I watch this show, I laugh so much.  If you’re looking for a comedy this is the show for you.  The players do a wonderful job of playing off each other bouncing off each others lines as if it were everyday banter.  

Shows that deal with babies left in handbags left in train stations (Victoria station of all places!) are just not done often enough.  The only problem with this show is the final line.  I love this show very much but every time I hear the last line I cringe, it’s horrible.  

It’s also important to note that the festival is doing the three act version of the show rather than the original four act.  There is some interesting trivia surrounding the the creation of the three act play but I wont get into that.  

I’ll leave you with the webcast where the general director of the festival (Antoni Cimolino) talks with Brian Bedford about his involvement in all things Wilde this season at the festival.

Be sure to watch the second part of this video.

Booking Through Thursday #35 – Gluttony

Booking Through Thursday

Book Gluttony! Are your eyes bigger than your book belly? Do you have a habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them? Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up with yourself? Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books when you have run out of things to read?

I’m definitely one that buys more books than I could possibly read.  I hear about books and rather than keeping a list I go and get the book.  In fact, I have two books that I need to pick up at the store now that I’ll get on my way to work.  I’ve been trying to curb my book buying but it’s proving to be a difficult task.  The only way to really curb the book buying would be to stop reading reviews and not enter the book store.  

I don’t know about you but it is almost impossible to walk past a book store while walking through the mall or down the street.  Are you also the type that must walk in when you see a book store?