Finally.

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It’s going on 2 years, more than 3 months since the hearing, and I finally have the results of my Human Rights complaint against Theatre 20.

It’s been a long day, so I’m not going to comment on it much now, I’ll just post a link to the entire document (which is public information, and will be available on the HRTO website soon, not sure exactly how long it takes them to post them but I’ve seen some from the end of March), and put some excerpts here.

I’ll point out, again, that I am well within my legal right to post all of this, though I’m sure I’ll get more complaints for doing it. I think it’s important to speak up when you’re mistreated, especially when the HRTO agrees – if I hear complaints again that this will damage anyone’s reputation I’ll repeat, as before, it’s not my saying it that’s hurting you, it’s that you’ve done it.

You can read a copy of the entire decision, here: 2017 HRTO 394 Dix Final 4-April-2017.
The only thing I have edited is the contact information for myself and the Respondent at the top of the page.

For those of you that don’t feel like reading all 43 pages, here’s the Coles Notes version:

Injury to Dignity & Self-Respect

I didn’t manage to prove all aspects of my case, unfortunately, but that wasn’t surprising considering it was very difficult for me to find any proof. Many of the things that were said or done happened in-person, so I had no written documents, no video or anything to support my claims. Since I worked with Brian Goldenberg alone (with the exception of a part-time student employee sometimes, and some volunteers, none of whom were privy to the conversations and issues that I raised in my complaint), the majority of really was “he said/she said”, though of course in this situation, the “he” didn’t even attend the hearing. So it came down to me versus the men in my complaint, none of whom were there for daily operations and all of whom I had complaints against; nonetheless, I was able to prove my points well enough that I was awarded “compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” (page 43). So let’s look at what that means.

Well in my case, it broke down into 2 main sections; my complaint of sexual harassment from Chris Weber, and the threat of reprisal I received when stating that I would file a formal complaint if that harassment, and other issues, did not stop. When it comes to sexual harassment and the code;

[48] Section 7(3)(a) of the Code provides that “every person has a right to be free from a sexual solicitation or advance made by a person in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the person where the person making the solicitation or advance knows or ought reasonably to know that it is unwelcome”.

As the Vice Chair notes in the assessment;

[49] Mr. Weber was clearly a person in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit to the applicant. He was a member of the respondent’s board of directors where the applicant was an employee. He described himself as being in a leadership and mentorship role to the applicant. He had recommended her to be hired for her position with the respondent.

While there were other issues as well, the one piece of hard evidence I had in regards to this was the text message, which I posted in my last blog about the hearing;

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As I stated in my claim, this message made me uncomfortable not just in its nature, but more so in the fact that he was,

  1. Was in a position of power above me
  2. Considerably older than me
  3. Married (and recently, too)
  4. Was apparently hitting on me to my face, while insulting me and complaining about me behind my back

It felt very much like a power trip, and apparently the Vice Chair agreed;

[50] Even if I were to accept Mr. Weber’s evidence that the semi-colon was intended by him as a smiley face, and not as a winky face, and that the “hehehe” was intended as a light-hearted hee-hee-hee, the fact remains that Mr. Weber sent text messages to the applicant describing her outfit from the event as “hot” and telling her that he was “looking forward to [her] coming out with the shorter dress”. In my view, these comments are clearly and obviously sexual in nature.

He goes on to discuss the legal definition of an “advance” and what that means in regards to the code, all of which again, you can read in full if you click the link at the top. The main point however is summed up here;

[50] …I have no hesitation in finding that Mr. Weber ought reasonably to have known that these comments were unwelcome to the applicant.

How does that come back to what is officially a complaint against The Twenty Theatre Company? Well;

[51] As Mr. Weber is vice-chair of the board of directors of the respondent theatre company, I find that Mr. Weber is part of the directing mind of the respondent. As such, the respondent is liable for his conduct: see Halliday v. Van Toen Innovations Incorporated, 2013 HRTO 583; Strauss v. Canadian Property Investment Corporation (No. 2), (1995) 24 C.H.R.R. D/43 at para. 55; and Ghosh v. Domglas (No. 2), (1992) 17 C.H.R.R. D/216 at para. 54.

[52] Accordingly, I find that the respondent is liable for the violation of the applicant’s rights under s. 7(3)(a) of the Code.

Their other violation of the Human Rights Code was in the threat of reprisal; I told Brian that I had complaints, he said he’d deal with them, he didn’t (according to testimony, he never even shared them with the Board Members), so I said I would speak to them myself and that if things didn’t change, I would have to file a complaint. They stated that was a reason for my termination, which is illegal.

In testimony from Board Member Dave Morris, it was clearly stated that this was the case, as is described here;

[78] Mr. Morris testified that the executive director said that the “penny dropped” in his mind and he decided to terminate the applicant’s employment after she had indicated to him that unless he spoke up to the board and committee members about their behavior towards the applicant, then she was going to go do it herself. Mr. Morris testified that this was described to him by the executive director as the “deciding moment”.

In regards to how exactly this is dealt with by the code;

[105] Section 8 of the Code provides, in its relevant part: “Every person has a right to claim and enforce his or her rights under this Act . . . without reprisal or threat of reprisal for so doing”. In Noble v. York University, 2010 HRTO 878 at para. 33, the Tribunal stated that in an application alleging reprisal, the following elements must be established: (1) an action taken against, or threat made to, the applicant; (2) the alleged action or threat is related to the applicant having claimed, or attempted to enforce a right under the Code; and (3) an intention on the part of the respondent to retaliate for the claim or attempt to enforce the right. Intent may be proved by direct evidence or by inference: Entrop v. Imperial Oil Ltd. (No. 7) (1995), 23 C.H.R.R. D/213, upheld with respect to reprisal, (2000), 37 C.H.R.R. 481, 2000 CanLII 16800 (ON CA).

And when it comes to my case?

[106] With regard to the first element, there is no question that the termination of the applicant’s employment is an adverse or negative action taken against the applicant.

[107] With regard to the second element, the first issue is whether and, if so, when the applicant claimed or attempted to enforce her Code rights

[108] While I am not convinced that a generic reference to “workplace rights” would be sufficient to establish that an applicant had claimed her Code rights, I note that her use of this term was clearly understood by the executive director to refer to human rights. This is evidenced by the executive director’s e-mail dated July 23, 2015, in which he makes reference to the applicant’s “threat of human rights action against us on Tuesday night” (July 21, 2015 was a Tuesday). As a result, I find that, whatever words she used, the applicant was clearly understood by the executive director, and hence by the respondent, to have claimed and threatened to enforce her human rights under the Code at least as of the night of July 21, 2015.

[109] The next question for me to consider is whether the applicant’s claim of, and threat to enforce, her human rights was related to the decision to terminate her employment…on the basis of Mr. Morris’ evidence, it was this very text from the applicant, in which she threatened to go directly to the board members to raise her concerns about how she perceived they were treating her and the executive director, which was the proverbial “final straw” that caused the executive director to make the final termination decision.

Basically it needs to be proven that, not only did a say I would make a complaint and that I felt my rights were being violated, but that they understand it as such, and that then I faced reprisal because of it. The result?

[111] As a result, I find that the applicant has established that her right to be free from reprisal has been violated by the respondent, in contravention of s. 8 of code on the basis of my finding that her threat of human rights action against the respondent was a factor in the final decision to terminate the applicant’s employment. In making this finding, I am cognizant of the well-established principle that a protected right under the Code need not be the only or even the principal reason for the adverse treatment, and that it is sufficient for the protected right to have contributed to, or played a role in, the adverse treatment: see Quebec (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse) v. Bombardier Inc. (Bombardier Aerospace Training Center), 2015 SCC 39 at paras. 43 to 52.

The amount of money I am supposed to be compensated with will be just enough (literally) to pay back the debt I have from the loans I had to take to avoid being homeless after losing that job. So please don’t think I’m getting rich off this, or coming out ahead. As I’ve said from the start I was much more concerned with having this heard, and I do understand that a judgement saying I’m awarded a certain amount doesn’t mean I’ll actually ever see it, so who knows how that will go. So I guess it’s not actually all over, but I can’t tell you the relief I felt reading this today.

Finally, while it didn’t exactly play into the end result, since this is an issue of particular importance to me, I’ll end this off with this note;

[101] The third allegation of discrimination because of disability relates to the respondent’s decision to cut off her access to her e-mail account on July 23, 2015. There can be no dispute that the applicant’s medical condition was expressly relied upon by the executive director as stated in the July 23, 2015 e-mail as one of the reasons for cutting off access. I further find that the executive director’s fear that the applicant may become “destructive” in light of the decision to terminate her employment plays on stereotypes about persons with mental health disabilities.

I have clinical depression and anxiety with agoraphobia. I have been being treated for part of this for about 7 years, and the other about 4, and have been medicated most of this time. It does sometimes make it difficult for me to get out of bed, to go outside, to not want to crawl into a hole and die, BUT, it in no way makes me “destructive” and the fact that Brian Goldenberg explicitly said to Board Members that my “condition” meant I couldn’t be trusted is not only insulting but idiotic. I feel like most people will realize it, but I’ve still gotta say it.

If I could give anyone advice from any of this (and of course, this is not legal advice, it’s just what I wish I had done differently), it would be to disclose any disabilities early on in your job. Admittedly, not in the first 3 months; you can be fired for anything then, and the sad truth is that most people are not very accepting or tolerant of mental illness or disability, so I would not count on them being “good people” about it. However, despite the fact that Brian stated to the Board Members that “my condition” was a reason for not trusting me, I was unable to prove that I was fired based on discrimination due to a disability, primarily because I made other excuses for it before. Since I was initially told it was fine to work from home, I didn’t think agoraphobia would be a problem. If I could have days where I didn’t need to go out, I could still work. However, when I had those days, instead of saying that I needed to stay home because of anxiety or depression, I would say I was “sick”. While technically that was true, and while I did that because of the types of negative responses I had had in the past when I did disclose my mental illness, it eventually came back to bite me, as they could now claim that my disability didn’t prevent me from doing any work, and that it had never come up before. It’s sort of a catch 22 in my opinion, but that’s how it is, I suppose. I’ve been very lucky in that, the jobs i’ve had since then – at Tarragon Theatre and now with Canamedia’s Teens 101 – I’ve worked with incredibly kind, accepting and understanding people. And while I have still had many days where I couldn’t go to work, it was never because of what was waiting for me there. Those were and are both happy and (to use the popular term of the moment) “safe places”.

-E.

FINALLY…Almost.

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It’s been a year and 5 months in the making, and it’s still not over yet. But today, I finally finished my hearing for my Human Rights action against Theatre 20. While I may have to wait up to 3 months for a decision, I’ve decided, to hell with it, whether I win or lose, I want to get my side of the story out there now. It’s been exhausting and so why wait?

Before I get started, I’d like to point a few things out – namely, because people in the hearing liked to talk as though they were victims, and I had done some horrible injustice to them by insisting they respect my rights. So for them, or anyone who may think like them who wants to try and say I’m doing something wrong here, I’d like to point out;

“Like the courts, the hearings and decisions of the HRTO are public” – HRTO FAQ’s

In fact, at one point I was startled to have a stranger walk in and sit down at the back to watch; he has his own hearing coming up, and wanted to get a feel for it. So yes, I am allowed to say all of this, and yes, everything I am saying is true and based off of sworn statements and/or written evidence. Which means, when two of the Respondents decided to throw out there during testimony that they felt I had “defamed them”, they were wrong. Mainly, because the remarks were true, but also because my following the legal procedures to file a complaint of sexual harassment and discrimination is NOT derogatory, but rather my right as a Canadian, and a human being. So here’s a definition, for reference;

Canadian Defamation Law. … The more modern definition (of defamation) is words tending to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally. The common law protects every person from harm to their reputation by false and derogatory remarks about their person, known as defamation. CanLaw Inc.

Since this is a long and relatively complicated thing to explain, I think I’ll break it up into a few posts. I’ll start with the most important one, the thing that after the Hearing, after hearing witness testimonies, I am the most upset about;

Brian Goldenberg

I met Brian not long after he took on the position of Executive Director at Theatre 20. It was a job I had applied to as well, and so when I heard he got it I reached out with congratulations, hoping he would keep me in mind if another position opened up. Turns out that several Board Members who were at my interview quite liked me, and encouraged Brian to reach out once he got settled in. So in early 2015, we met up and discussed how I could be involved in the company.

My Job

I started off part-time, 20 hours a week, as Brian was still trying to sort out some issues with the management crossover. But by April, I was a full-time employee, and it wasn’t long until he gave me the title of Producer. As any theatre producer knows, the job is varied, and I did everything from web design, research, newsletters, venue coordination, social media, fundraising – anything that needed doing. As he was still settling into his role, I wasn’t given a ton of long-term tasks, but I was constantly assured I would have a contract “this week” and on more than one occasion he referenced the fact that he expected us to both be there for at least 5 years; I considered this a career, moved out of my house in Brampton so I could better manage the commute to work (anxiety & agoraphobia do not mix with long commutes), and that eventually lead to the end of my engagement. While he claimed in the Response that I didn’t care enough about Theatre 20, the fact is I changed everything else in my life to accommodate it. I considered myself in for the long haul.

I won’t go into the details of the issues I had with the day-to-day work with Brian, because frankly, I considered them not much more than an annoyance at the time. He was very slow to approve things, yet I wasn’t allowed to do anything on my own. While this and other issues were frustrating, I had no idea at the time that I was being blamed for anything not being done, and I trusted that he was doing his best, being honest, and that, when it came to the complaints I made, was “on my side”. I have since learned I was very wrong.

The Complaints

I’ll go into the specific complaints in another blog, because otherwise this will be far too long. For now, all you need to know is that I made complaints about 2 main issues;

  1. Sexual Harassment: Board Member Chris Weber had been overly flirtatious, and in a text message told me that I was “hot” and that he wanted to see me in a “shorter dress” – I told Brian about this and my fear that, if I rejected or complained to Weber about these things, there would be a reprisal. I didn’t want things to escalate in any way – no more flirting, but also no angry board member to deal with. I told Brian I didn’t want to later be accused of “not saying anything” (something you hear about women in harassment cases ALL the time) at the time. We didn’t have any particular policies in place, but after the conversation I felt confident that the issue would be resolved, or, at the very least, that it wouldn’t come back to bite me later. Again, I thought he was on my side.
  2. Discrimination & Harassment: On many, MANY occasions (we’re talking at least a dozen) I expressed to Brian that I felt the behaviour of certain Board Members – primarily Chris Skillen – during meetings was inappropriate. There was yelling and insulting remarks (mostly towards Brian) and I felt particularly uncomfortable with the way I was spoken about (rather than to), and some comments they had made about using Conservatory members (a youth mentorship program) as “promo girls”, as well as insisting on hugs and other comments made (again, details in another post), had pushed to me request, and eventually insist, that Brian speak to them about their behaviour. I offered from the start to do it myself, but he wanted to be the one to deal with them, so I let it be. But every time a new issue (or, the same issue) would rise again, I’d say “I need you to talk to them about this”. Eventually, I hit a point where I said, “if you don’t talk to them and stop this, I will. And if that doesn’t work I’ll have to make a formal complaint” (again, whether Employment Standards or HRTO, I knew this was inappropriate for the workplace).

The Result

Much of this came to a head in July of 2015, when I received what I found to be an especially rude and unprofessional email from Chris Weber. To top it off, he had cc’d a number of people who did not need to be involved in the conversation, something I felt he’d done purposefully in an attempt to embarrass me. I had had enough. I told Brian to say something, found I wasn’t getting a response, and so replied myself – only to Chris and Brian – with the following;

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Apparently, this, along with the text I sent at the same time to Brian, saying that I would file a formal complaint if this email didn’t solve things, was “when the penny dropped” for Brian, and he decided I needed to be terminated (this is from sworn testimony given by Dave Morris, Chair of the Board). Dave added, while giving his testimony, that he believed my saying that I would speak to Board Members directly was legitimate cause for termination; it would be breaking the chain of command.

Let’s see what the code says about this;

“Section 8 of the Code protects people from reprisal or threats of reprisal.[146] A reprisal is an action, or threat, that is intended as retaliation for claiming or enforcing a right under the Code. 

People with psychosocial disabilities may try to enforce their Code rights by filing a grievance against an employer, making an application at the HRTO, or making an internal discrimination complaint to a service provider, housing provider, or to their employer. However, there is no strict requirement that someone who alleges reprisal must have already made an official complaint or application under the Code.[147] Also, to claim reprisal, a person does not have to show that their rights were actually infringed.[148]

The following will establish that someone experienced reprisal based on a Code ground:
– an action was taken against, or a threat was made to, the claimant
– the alleged action or threat was related to the claimant having claimed, or trying to enforce a Code right, and
– there was an intention on the part of the respondent to retaliate for the claim or the attempt to enforce the right.[149] – OHRC

Dave Morris was the only Respondent at the Hearing to admit that Brian had told him about my intention to follow through with my complaint, however, it wasn’t long until Brian made this known to everyone on the Board.

An email was submitted as evidence and I saw it for the first time this November; this was the first thing to make me change from feeling bitter that Brian hadn’t done more to support me (but thinking it wasn’t his choice) to realizing that he had been lying to me, as well as Board Members, and that he was actually the key person behind my unethical termination.

To me, he was saying:

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To me, he was claiming to be caring and understanding. To the rest of the Board, he was saying that we hadn’t spoken in 2 days and that I couldn’t be trusted due to my “condition”. 

In the July 23 email Brian lists off 3 reasons that he feels I need to be blocked from all accounts (rather than just spoken to) before my imminent termination, they are;

“a) the knowledge of her condition” – here he openly admits, in writing, to the entire Board of Directors, that my disclosed disability, my medical condition, is a cause for his actions.

“b) her threat of human rights action against us on Tuesday night” – he even bolds this, it’s glaring. I am illegally facing reprisal for my request that my human rights be enforced. And if any Board Members were unaware of my complaints before (I do believe, after testimony, that Brian did not disclose this to them, despite my requests, but I’m not sure) they certainly knew from this email.

“c) the fact that I hadn’t heard from her in 2 days and had no idea how vindictive she would be” – this one actually made me laugh. For one, I’m not a vindictive person, and he had no reason to believe I was one, but more importantly, this is a lie. He had spoken to me less than 24 hours before (in that above text) when I disclosed my disability, a conversation he is even referencing here.

There are also a couple key issues with this, firstly, much of it is untrue;

I had told him the day before that I was not well and unable to come in due to anxiety – This text is posted above. While I was later in contacting him that day than usual, I did get in touch, and I had only delayed because I had been up all night in a depressed ball of anxiety – I slept in. I did not attend work that day due to illness.


Chris Morelli did NOT call Brian Goldenberg. Not only did he testify to his fact, under oath, but he managed to check his phone records that day; no calls in or out from Brian’s number, or the Theatre 20 office. Chris further stated that he, a) was not in regular contact with me at that time, and would not have called in regards to my whereabouts, b) I was no longer living with him, he would not have known about my whereabouts or activities, c) he had only twice called Brian, both times on my behalf, and months before this incident. On both occasions it was when I was living with him and because I was sick; I requested he called and he did so.

Guess Brian wasn’t on my side.

The majority of the Respondent’s case relied on their trying to prove that I was not dismissed because of a disability, or as reprisal (they claimed to not know about either, despite evidence to the contrary), but because of poor work performance. In their response they claimed I wouldn’t show up for work, would make mistakes such as spelling and grammatical errors in emails and other writing,  and that I was too slow in getting things such as LOIs done. While I requested documents to support this, I never got any; that’s because those things aren’t true. But while I initially assumed they were making it all up, I now believe that Brian told certain Board Members that those were issues – three of them testified to such. Brian, however, never said a negative word to me, and again, no evidence was supported to prove these claims. It all went on Brian’s word.

So what did he have to say about it?

Well you might think that in a case such as this, where 90% of the time the only person I interacted with was Brian, where all the “evidence” provided by the Respondent was based off of “Brian told me..”, that Brian Goldenberg would be their star witness. No such luck. He didn’t attend the hearing, they didn’t bother to summon him, and so a lot of it came down to hearsay. That and my side.

That may make it sound like a victory for me, but honestly I’m disappointed he didn’t attend. I was looking forward to asking him questions under oath, as I truly believed, before this hearing, that he was just afraid to speak up. He has a family, he wouldn’t want to risk his job – I couldn’t respect that in an employer, but I did understand. But now he hasn’t worked for the company for about 6 months (they ran out of money in February, apparently), so I thought, what’s stopping him? However after hearing other’s testify I realized how often he lied to me, and how, at least on several key occasions as I’ve outlined here, how often he lied to his superiors. So would he have told the truth at the hearing? Who knows. But regardless I felt it as time for me to say something here.

More to come.

-E.

NOTE: As a side note, while I don’t believe anything I have said implies this, I do want to make something clear; my complaint was against Theatre 20 and in particular 3 men I named as Respondents; Chris Skillen, Chris Weber, and Brian Goldenberg. I have met other members of the company – Board Members, Founding Artists, Volunteers etc. – who have been completely lovely people, and I do not have any issue with them, nor do I think the issues outlined here should be attributed to them in any way. A few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch, though they did spoil over a year and a half of my life.

REVIEW: Everything Else Is Sold Out

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I was thrilled to see such a full house at a late performance of last night’s Everything Else Is Sold Out, a Dame Judy Dench sketch show currently running as a part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe. The show is flawlessly directed by Paul Bates (Canadian Comedy Awards, Best Male Improvisor – NOW Magazine, 2013, director – Second City’s Click Bait & Switch,  actor – Dan for Mayor, Puppets Who Kill, The Ron James Show) and features the talents of Claire Farmer (Second City, Bad Dog), Jessica Greco (The Animal Project, TIFF 2013, Rookie Blue, Bomb Girls) Shannon Lahaie (Wait Until Dark – Bygone Theatre, Insane – best actress nomination, FilmQuest 2014), Chris Leveille (Second City, Bad Dog), and Gavin Pounds (Barrie North Improv Team).

What really makes Everything Else stand out is how seamlessly the sketches flow from one to another; dynamic transitions keep the energy up and give a place to mini sight gags and jokes that lesser companies would try to drag out into a whole sketch. The technical elements are well executed and everyone’s timing (stage manager included) is perfectly on-point; no one misses a beat. While there isn’t exactly a theme to the show overall, just enough references are made to call back to other scenes and each time this is done it is done so cleverly; lots of laughs, none of the groans you come to expect from most sketch acts.

NOTE: I feel awful that I don’t know the names of most of these people (no pictures in the program), so apologies as I mention some favourite moments without crediting the specific performers;

Some favourite moments include a “Troller’s Support Group” (featuring of course, a literal troll); a new type of app, “Uber Walks”; a rather extravagant hat; a doctor’s visit that reveals a young woman (Lahaie) is suffering from “Montages”; a date that gets side-tracked when the man discovers a room full of jars (I know, sounds odd, but trust me); a guy dancing to bossanova beats who is DEFINITELY not a vampire and the cleverly book-ended scenes that start and finish the show. There are no weak links in this cast. While the scenes I listed were the strongest, I had a grin on my face throughout – this is far better than any sketch show I’ve seen on a Second City stage.

There are only 2 shows left!!! Check out my Fringe Picks Post for show dates & times.

The Verdict: Do not miss it. Go see it now.
Rating: 5/5 Stars

REVIEW: Dan’s Inferno

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You may have seen versions of Dante’s Inferno before, but I doubt you’ve seen one with a talking toilet, and while we’ve all seen plays about the regrets we have at the end of life, chances are you haven’t seen one as strangely funny and sincerely touching as Dan’s Inferno, playing now as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe.

The show comes from the minds of Toronto’s Fratwurst comedy troupe, and features the talents of Eric Miinch (Fratwurst), Josh Murray (Fratwurst, Second City Education Company), Evan Arppe (Fratwurst, Host of The Watchllist on CHCH), Natalie Metcalfe (2 Humans, CBC-True Dating Stories), Lance Byrd (The Weaker Vessels), Peyton LeBarr, (Twelfe Night- Ale House Theatre) and Chris Murray (Chaisse Gallerie- Red One Collective). It’s a story about Dan (Miinch), a young man who wasted his life on Earth but finds purpose in what comes after. Sound typical? A bit. But the twisted collection of characters (trolls, the aforementioned talking toilet, aptly named John) will keep you guessing and, frequently, laughing til it hurts.

The overall structure of the play is a little odd; at times it feels like sketch comedy, at times it’s a mini musical, and thrown together are cleverly crafted typical theatre moments (artistic transitions, moments of sweet sincerity) mixed in with absolutely absurd, almost improvised (sounding) comedy. As a whole it may require a little further polishing, but I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Highlights include some far-too-relatable songs by wannabe actress, Beatrice (Metcalfe); Purgatory babies soaring through the air and subsequently being torn limb-from-limb by Dan, desperate to go to Hell (Miinch); and a wonderfully timed lighting cue in which everything pauses so that a man and his dog can have a final goodbye before a second, sudden death (kudos to stage manager Maddox Campbell on the timing there).

I think this is the type of show best taken as-is and enjoyed. If I give it a lot of thought, I could pick out some issues, but the fact of it is I laughed through most of it and left with a smile on my face, something unfortunately difficult to do with many sketch shows, not to mention Fringe productions.

Verdict: Very weird, very fun – check it out.
Rating: 4/5 stars

Check out my Fringe Picks post for showtimes and more details.

REVIEW: Behold, The Barfly!

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If you’re looking for nudity, strobe lights and God himself, check out Spoon Vs Hammer’s Behold, The Barfly! playing now at the Monarch Tavern as part of the 2016 Toronto Fringe. Written and directed by the very funny Justin Haigh, this laugh-out-loud sketch show features the talents of Elizabeth Anacleto (Mark Purvis Award winner, Toronto Festival of Clowns), Jeff Hanson (Edmund, Storefront Theatre), Steve Hobbs (writer for Second City, CBC Punchline), Marsha Mason (Second City National Touring Company), Kevin MacPherson (Sex T-Rex, Robin Hood: The Legendary Musical Comedy), Eric Miinch (sketch troupe Fratwurst, Bygone Theatre’s Wait Until Dark), Ned Petrie (CBC Radio, Second City, Teletoon’s Night Sweats) and Sarah Thorpe (HereticLove Is A Poverty You Can Sell); with a cast like that you know you’re in for a good time.

I won’t describe any of the scenes as I don’t want to give away punchlines, but I’ll say that highlights included a passionate but slightly misguided children’s face painter, a holy unicorn, probably the most terrifying comic you’ve ever seen, an unusual trip to the Science Centre and two news announcer types who very eagerly tell you all about things that “make no fucking sense”. Add to that some popular songs that will have you asking, “are those really the lyrics??” and Benedict Cumberbatch (really! well, sort of) and it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Plus, it’s in a tavern, so you can drink!

Verdict: Definitely worth seeing
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Check out my Fringe Picks blog for show times & more details.

 

 

My Top 5, 2016 Toronto Fringe Picks

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Every year at the Fringe those of us in the theatre community get very excited & very overwhelmed; it’s a chance to see everyone (many describe it as “Christmas for actors”) but also a time when you try frantically to fit into your schedule all the shows you feel you “must” see. I know there’s already a lot of “must see” lists out there but, hell, why not throw one more into the mix? These are 5 that I know will rock because of the fantastic people involved.

Behold, The Barfly!

Where: Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street (Site Specific)

When: 
buy tickets  June 29th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  June 30th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 2nd at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 7th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 3:00 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 7:00 PM
buy tickets  July 10th at 7:00 PM

What: From the writer of the smash hit ‘Love is a Poverty You Can Sell’ (★★★★★ / NNNNN) comes a surreal and cerebral sketch spectacular featuring some of Toronto’s finest comedy talent! Peer into the pickled subconscious of a slumbering barfly and behold the wonders within: Mirth! Adventure! Mediocre Poetry! Sober contemplation of life choices! Dinosaurs?

Why: Writer Justin Haigh is hilarious and the very talented Eric Miinch is in this show as well (his own show comes later on this list). Who doesn’t love clever sketch comedy?

Bright Lights

Where: Tarragon Theatre Mainspace

When:
buy tickets  June 29th at 10:30 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 8:45 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 3:30 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 6:30 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 12:00 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 6:00 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 11:30 PM

What: From Kat Sandler, Theatre Brouhaha, and the creative minds behind the Fringe smash hits Punch Up, Morro and Jasp, Peter n’ Chris, and Shakey-Shake & Friends comes a new dark comedy about survival, trust, and an alien abduction support group thrown into chaos by the suggestion that someone in their midst may not be as human as they seem.

Why: See the ladies behind Morro & Jasp perform without their clown personas (something I personally am very interested in) and check out the latest from Kat Sandler who recently won the Dora for her new production of Mustard at Tarragon.

Dan’s Inferno

Where: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse

When:
buy tickets  June 30th at 8:45 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 11:00 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 1:00 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 2:30 PM
buy tickets  July 7th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 9:45 PM
buy tickets  July 10th at 5:15 PM

What: Based loosely on Dante’s famous poems, we seek explore the modern interpretation of what comes after death. Dan lived his life unremarkably and now he is dead. Don’t feel bad for him, dear reader. In death, Dan finds himself free to visit heaven and hell, purgatory too. He will find more meaning in his afterlife than he ever found in his beforelife.

Why: You may have seen a version of The Inferno before, but I’m sure you haven’t seen one like this. I know what was on their costume list, and it sounds like one hell of a show. Plus, Eric Miinch (recently seen as Roat in Bygone’s Wait Until Dark) is one of the funniest people I know; if you have a chance to see something of his, don’t miss it.

Everything Else Is Sold Out

Where: Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse

When:
buy tickets  June 30th at 10:30 PM
buy tickets  July 2nd at 7:30 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 4:30 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 6:00 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 11:00 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 12:00 PM
buy tickets  July 10th at 3:30 PM

What: Bad News! All those hot ticket shows are sold out (don’t bother checking, they definitely are). Good News! Dame Judy Dench is back with an all new sketch revue! Covering everything from situations to other situations, it’s a show you’ve gotta see, especially since Everything Else Is Sold Out!
Past Reviews “Outstanding Ensemble and Production”, NNNNN, NOW Magazine

Why: While she didn’t get to show off her comedy-chops in Wait Until Dark, Shannon Lahaie is an extremely funny lady, and the range she showed in WUD proves her to be a talented actress as well. Dame Judy Dench has gotten great buzz for their past sketch shows and I’m sure this will be no different, definitely one I can’t wait to see.

Mullet’s Ghost Story

Where: Harbord House, 150 Harbord Street (Site Specific)

When:
buy tickets  June 29th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  June 30th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 1st at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 2nd at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 3rd at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 4th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 5th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 6th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 7th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 8th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 9th at 9:30 PM
buy tickets  July 10th at 9:30 PM

What: A haunting tale about the dead, as told by the undead, for you, the living. Zombie clown Mullet wants nothing more than to never be alone. Be careful what you wish for. Starring Toronto’s Best Male Improviser (2015 NOW Magazine Reader’s Choice). Directed by 2x Canadian Comedy Award winner. Written by 3x Canadian National Playwriting Competition winner.

Why: Mullet was recently seen in Bygone’s Vaudeville Revue where he performed one of the most unique bits in the show. A clever writer and performer, I can’t wait to see what one of his full-length shows is like.

Check out the Fringe website for complete show listings.

Another Theatre-Filled Year – Looking Back at my 2015

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Skimming the blog that I wrote about this time last year I can’t believe so much time has gone by. I think we always start off a new year feeling positive and optimistic, and things rarely turn out the way we expect, for better or for worse.

I’ve certainly had my share of crappy moments this year, but when I sit down to write something like this, a summary in a few hundred words of several hundred days, I find that the things that stick out are still mostly positive. Why? Simply because while I can trace a positive experience back to every negative one, I never do the opposite; who cares what bad seems to follow from a good thing? Chances are, they aren’t really connected, and would you trade that good moment if it meant maybe not enduring the bad? When it comes to the negative, sure, it sucks. And honestly, if I were to just count them, this year has been mostly negative. However, with each and every bad moment I can follow it through and see how it played a crucial moment in the best times I’ve had this year. Flawed, contradictory logic? For sure. But whatever. If it gets you to the start of another year looking forward to the good things rather than dwelling on the bad, well, then, I don’t think anyone should complain.

So on that note, here’s a happy summary of all my fun-filled theatre experiences of 2015 – a reminder to you, and me, of all the good parts of the year and the bright things ahead.

A Dark New Musical

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I started off the year working on a new musical with one of my best friends. Those who know me likely know that it didn’t go as planned. At all. Still, in keeping with the positive theme of this post, here is what good did come from it;

  1. I met some amazingly talented people and was lucky enough to make some really great new friends. Theatre is all about connections and I made some good business ones there as well.
  2. I helped to create and produce an original, full-length musical, something that, not only had I never done before, but, regardless of how it turned out in the end, is a pretty big accomplishment in itself. I can’t tell you the number of hours put into that show, how exhausting it was on so many levels, but despite that I came out of it not jaded, not angry, still loving theatre and still loving the people I worked with. Anyone who has heard all the inside stories knows that that fact alone is nothing short of a miracle! It also tells me that, yes, I am in the right business.
  3. I got to visit NYC again for a little over a week. One of my favourite cities, I love going there and am trying to make it a goal to visit at least once every year.
  4. For better and for worse, I got to see the true colours of a lot of people, and I think that’s a very valuable thing to discover. For the most part, I was proud and very happy with what I saw, and for the rest, well, lesson learned.

I Wanna Be A…Producer?

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Conor, Kenton, Matt & myself

As I think I’ve said before, I started off producing purely out of necessity; there aren’t a lot of people out there who get excited by budgets and spreadsheets and who would prefer to stay behind the scenes, keeping everything running smoothly while most of the groups asks each other, “what do producers do, anyway?”. I had produced all of Bygone’s shows but not given much thought to doing it outside of that, until a friend of mine (who almost NEVER gives compliments) told me he thought I was good at it, and that it was a path I should follow. I took that to heart, as I do just about all that he says, still, I didn’t think there would really be any opportunity as I felt producers must have some sort of skill that I was lacking (although I wasn’t really sure what that would be).

In early February 2015 I started working for Theatre 20, initially without any title, just happy to be earning a living working in theatre in some capacity. When they decided what my role would be I was surprised to be given the title of Producer, but when they explained what I would be doing and why they thought that was the right role I realized, heh, that is what a producer does, that is what I’ve been doing and maybe this all isn’t as unattainable as I thought.

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35mm: A Musical Exhibition, Toronto Premiere, May 2015

A few months later (on a project outside of T20) I was the Assistant Producer for the Canadian premiere of 35mm: A Musical Exhibition and I found myself working on a show that starred an actress I had eagerly seen perform (and gotten an awkward fan photo with) about 10 years before. Small world, eh? And again, maybe not as impossible as I had thought.

Things with Theatre 20 didn’t work out but here again I learned some valuable lessons; don’t take people on their word. Don’t trust in someone just because you feel they are a “good person”. And when it comes down to it, it IS worth sticking to your guns and having a say, just make sure you get everything in writing so that if it comes back to bite you, you can prove that you were the one coming from the right place. I hope to be able to go into all of this in more detail in the new year.

What working with T20 did do, besides teaching me the above lessons, is give me the confidence to say, yes, I can be a producer. And so I went into those musicals feeling like I knew what I was doing. And I continued to put together Bygone, slowly easing more and more into a producer’s position. It also encouraged me to apply for the Assistant Producer position at Tarragon; I start there in the new year.

Bygone Theatre – INCORPORATED

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We didn’t change the name, didn’t add an “inc” or anything to it, so I guess most people would never know anything changed, but this year we applied and were granted non-profit incorporation status for Bygone Theatre and I couldn’t be happier. Granted, I have yet to make any money off this company (the shows with profit have directly financed the following shows – I don’t get paid for any of my work), BUT I can still say that at 26 years old I now own and run my own company, which is pretty nifty. Being non-profit meant I needed a board of directors and I am fortunate enough to have gotten an amazing team. Not only are they talented, with artistic opinions I respect, and a motivation and drive necessary for the company’s growth, they are great people and great friends. I think we’re set up well for the new year with this group at the helm.

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Bygone Board – Elizabeth, Conor, Elizabeth & Leete

More Freelance Work

As I did more work for my own company and other’s, I was surprised to find people actually liking what I’d done (who’d a thunk it?). I started doing some web design for friends and found that I liked it a lot. In the new year, I’m signing up for some more technical courses so that I feel qualified to advertise myself as a web designer, but already the encouragement I’ve gotten is great. Maybe this year some of that work will actually turn a profit!

True-Blue

As I’ve sort of said already, if I had to summarize this year with one general theme, one “lesson learned”, it would be knowing now who to trust (and not to) and who my true friends are. In some cases, it was obvious. In others, I was pleasantly surprised. But all round I’ve found that time together or apart has no baring on a friendship; it’s the quality of the person, not the quantity of the time spent together, and someone you’ve known for 12 years can cease to be a friend in a blink of an eye while someone you’ve known for 2 months can become your main source of support. I’ve been surprised by the kindness and generosity of a few people in particular, and in addition to knowing that I will pay them back as soon as I’m able, it’s also encouraged me to spread the love to some strangers. Not everyone is lucky enough to have friends like these, I know, so it’s time to share some of that luck.

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What’s Next

I start my job as Assistant Producer at Tarragon Theatre on January 5, 2016. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. I’m grateful for the chance to work with one of the most respected companies in the city, and know that at the very least, I will work with some talented people whose careers I aspire to. I’m sure there’ll be much more than that, but I’ll save it for when I actually start working there.

Tarragon

With Bygone, I’m working on making the Retro Radio Hour a regular program and talking to some of those involved about how we can make it tighter and better; we’ve got some great ideas brewing. As well, I will be directing another show, something I’ve really missed doing for the past year, when we mount Wait Until Dark. Plus, I am finally getting the chance to produce Vaudeville Revue, something I have been thinking about for the past 3 or more years. This is the year to set down our guidelines, to make an impression, to prepare ourselves for the 2016-2017 season, which will be our first fully-scheduled regular season. Lots of work, but I’m ready – bring it on.

So to everyone who has been a part of this year, thank you. Regardless of what our interaction was, what our current relationship is, you all helped to shape a year that has been the one with the most personal and career-related growth in…I don’t even know how long. The positive moments inspire me and the negative ones push me to drive forward and prove that this year can be better. Let’s see what 2016 has in store.

-E.

A Review of the LOT’s “Buddy Holly Story”

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Nigel Irwin as Buddy Holly, Thomas James Finn as the Big Bopper and Mike Buchanan as Richie Valens -photo Seanna Kennedy.

Nigel Irwin as Buddy Holly, Thomas James Finn as the Big Bopper and Mike Buchanan as Richie Valens – photo Seanna Kennedy.

The challenge of mounting any Jukebox Musical is that you are taking songs people know and love and putting them in the hands of performers who, regardless of how talented they are, are unlikely to live up to the image we have in our minds of what they should be. When you have the added challenge of working with performers who simply aren’t as talented as singers they’re portraying you end up with a show that is unfortunately lackluster. Sadly, this was the case for the majority of the performers in the Lower Ossington Theatre production of The Buddy Holly Story, however, a few standout moments were powerful enough to still make for an overall enjoyable evening.

…a show that is unfortunately lackluster…however, a few standout moments were powerful enough to still make for an overall enjoyable evening.

Alan Kinsella directed the show along with musical director Mike Ross. While I question some of the casting choices, the staging was effective and Mikael Kangas lighting and set design (Michael Galloro also worked on set) was simple but bold and engaging. They made excellent use of a small stage and stationary set, creating a series of unique scenes primarily through the use of lights. As always, I’m going to be critical of the design; I found the costumes sub-par especially the women’s, and was surprised to see such a big name (Mark Boots) listed as “Wig Consultant” when I thought the wigs looked cheap and inaccurate.

…excellent use of a small stage and stationary set, creating a series of unique scenes primarily through the use of lights.

Any performance that requires actors put on accents risks sounding cheesy or inauthentic; with the exception of Thomas Finn, whose Hi-Pockets & Big Bopper were spot on, this was a common issue for the show. As the title character, Nigel Irwin’s Buddy lacked the charm, charisma and authenticity the show required. In fact, the majority of the cast was lacking in energy, and moments like the fight scene between The Crickets and a music producer felt very forced. Similarly, numbers like “Party” that should have had the audience on their feet fell flat due to pitchy vocals and a dull performance.

Nigel Irwin’s Buddy lacked the charm, charisma and authenticity the show required.

Despite being too long and dragging much more than the first act (a fault of the writing, not performance), the second act was what made the show. Easily the biggest talent of the performance was Thomas Finn as The Big Bopper. Bursting onstage with all of the Bopper’s larger-than-life presence, Finn steals the show with on-the-spot vocals and contagious energy. You could feel the audience wake up during “Chantilly Lace”, and even less electric performances were given a much needed push with the help of Finn’s great stage presence.

Easily the biggest talent of the performance was Thomas Finn as The Big Bopper…Finn steals the show.

One number did stand out as a good Holly impersonation; “Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. That song has always been one of my favourites and I was happy to hear Irwin find his voice and channel Buddy beautifully in that song. Maybe some more work will add some consistency to his performance.

All in all the production has a definite amateurish feel, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable night out. Upbeat, lovable music and a few stand out moments make it a fun time for anyone with a love of the oldies. For tickets and more information, check out www.lowerossingtontheatre.com.

-E.

A Review of the Summerworks Production of “Seams”

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing writer Polly Phokeev’s Seams at Summerworks Toronto. Directed by Mikaela Davies, the play starred Krystina Bojanowski (Ira), Clare Coutler (Old Frosya), Sochi Fried (Radya), Jesse La Vercombe (Anton), Caitlin Robson (Froysa), Elizabeth Stuart-Morris (Shura) and Ewa Wolniczek (Marina). Set in Moscow, 1939, the story revolves around a group of seamstresses (and one seamster) working for a theatre company in the time leading up to the war. While the show does explore the tensions of Communist Russia, and the fears of the approaching war, the play is essentially a personal memory piece, told through the older Frosya (Coulter) who is now living in Canada and spending her days reminiscing about the past. Their website states this nicely, so I’ll just quote that;

“Seams is a response to the inherited guilt and the chaos of identity that comes with being a Russian immigrant to Canada. It asks us to confront the cultural guilt we all inherit, regardless of where we come from, and whether we can find ways to overcome it.”

Caitlin Robson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Caitlin Robson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

I was impressed with several aspects of the production. The first thing of note was the staging and design; as a period piece lover, I am often frustrated by the inaccuracies in sets and costumes of lower-budget productions. Seams however, was beautifully dressed, and with the exception of a couple pairs of rather modern shoes, everything looked beautiful and historically accurate. Bravo to designer Shannon Lea Doyle, her assistant Kelly Anderson, and installation designer Jackie McClelland (whom I have worked with before and am always impressed by).

The lighting design by Steve Vargo was also very effective. Simple, but powerful, it beautifully complemented the design and staging. Director Mikaela Davies accomplished something that I rarely see in this level of theatre; her staging was unique and memorable, but never completed with the work of her actors, and enhanced the piece rather than attempted to be the main focus. A couple moments were a little drawn out (I think of the random and a little cliched frantic wandering around the stage), but for the most part she succeeded in creating authentic moments and beautifully stylized tableau’s, in particular with the slow-motion movements of the young actors while Old Frosya spoke to the audience, and the (**SPOILER ALERT) flood of reporting papers that filled the stage in the final moment of the play. I have not heard of or seen Davies work before, but I will be sure to keep any eye out for her future productions.

Clare Coulter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Clare Coulter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

There were no weak links in this cast. Some of the characters were better written than others, but each actor gave a committed and completely believable performance, with very natural pacing and authentic emotion. I think the script still requires some work, as the distribution of lines and scene time is a little off; some of the stories I wanted to learn more about were glazed over, while in a predictable fashion, the onstage love story was given more stage time than necessary. Still, every actor was given a chance to be featured in the spotlight, and the variety of characters was impressive. As Frosya, Caitlin Robson (who I had the pleasure of working with in Bygone Theatre’s, Rope) embodied the motherly, protective role of a character who I would have expected to be played by someone considerably older than herself. Through the knowing glances and ever-watchful eye of Robson’s character, it is clear there is more to her than she allows others to see, making the end, while still surprising, very believable. Other performances of note include Elizabeth Stuart-Morris as Shura, who’s larger-than-life character adds the majority of fun and laughs to the show, and Sochi Fried as Radya who certainly had the most realistic and tragic portrayal in the cast.

Sochi Fried. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Sochi Fried. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Again, the script could use some final tweaks, and I suspect the final product will be as much as 20 minutes shorter, but overall this was a strong production and one I look forward to seeing future incarnations of.

For tickets and more show information, check out the Seams Collective website.

Keeping Busy

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Big week ahead.

We start off today with the first round of auditions for Kill Sister, Kill! It’s going to be weird to be sitting in on auditions as something other than director, I’m not sure if I’ve ever done that. We’ve got another night of them on Tuesday then callbacks next Sunday then right into rehearsals – things are chugging along. We had a long but very productive music meeting yesterday, pumping out some sounds for the overture and talking about the musical structure of the whole show. While after several hours of that and no real food besides Little Debbie Snack Cakes, we all start to get a bit giddy, but I think we made some good progress and I’m excited to see it pull together.

Tomorrow is the Theatre 20 Season Launch Party. It’s being held at Vagabondo Italian Ristorante + Lounge, which means I need to be dressed up, but since I’m also helping run the event I get to do things like carry risers & set up cords; we’ll see how well I do at that in a cocktail dress & heels. Should be a good night. We have a bunch of preview performances, tons of industry people coming and I’m expecting to see quite a few friendly familiar faces. I’ll update on the party & the season later this week.

I’m busily working on stuff for the next Bygone Theatre fundraiser, another Retro Radio Hour performance that will be used to raise money & give a sneak peak of Kill Sister, Kill! That comes up on July 4th, so I’ve gotta hustle in the next couple days to get the final things in place. Mostly I need to finish the poster design so I can start promoting it, and that’s something that I always take a while with.

Then of course there’s all the trip planning aspects of our trip to NYC. It is expensive to stay there, especially when you’re bringing a large group, so I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time looking things up and trying to find us the best deal. I want to get some of that nailed down this week so I can focus on more show-specific things. It’ll be a good time when we get there, but there’s nothing fun about the planning.

Meanwhile, I keep trying to get out in the evenings to meet new people and maintain my sanity; had a lovely time the other night and it’s always refreshing to meet someone outside of theatre who actually still has a decent understanding of it. Good drinks, good conversation, good time. Hoping to do that again soon, should I ever have another spare minute.

Back to the grind.
-E.