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Top 9 of '09: Best Festival shows, Part 1: Summerworks

January 18th, 2010 Steve No comments

The second post of my Best 9 of ‘09 series was supposed to be theatre in general; however, when I realized that 4 of my preliminary picks were Summerworks shows, I realized that Fringe and Summerworks deserved their own lists entirely. So there’ll be a Best of Theatre ‘09 list down the pipeline, but first – a post each, celebrating Toronto’s new work festivals. The Next Stage Theatre Festival is running to the end of this weekend at the Factory Theatre, featuring many of the actors and companies singled out for praise in these lists; I’ll mention their current offerings where applicable, as well as shows outside of Next Stage.

Naive little me thought I’d manage a post a day (hah!) when I started these retrospective posts, but they’re working out to 5 or more days apiece, so it’s entirely possible I won’t finish until the end of January! But for those curious, next up will be the Fringe Festival, then the Best Comedy Shows of 2009, then a Best Singles of 2009 post (plus an update by next Friday).

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Best Summerworks Moments of 2009

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One of the remarkable things about how the Summerworks Festival has evolved under Artistic Director Michael Rubenfeld is how it’s grown to include performance events that aren’t strictly stage plays; for this past year’s festival, I saw 27 plays, 18 bands, 9 Performance Gallery pieces, and 3 Summerwalks tours. So I’ve tried to pull from all those experiences in listing my top Summerworks picks, by citing particular events and moments that stood out and crystallized why that show was worthy of mention.

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#9: Maev Beaty’s painter seduces Erin Shields’s shopgirl in “Montparnasse

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Erin Shields and Maev Beaty played with audiences' conceptions of the nude model as their characters gradually succumbed to greed, lust, and jealousy in the riveting "Montparnasse". Photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard.

When both of the writer/performers of this fascinating look at nude models in 1920’s Paris first shed their clothes on stage, they did so in a way that lulled the audience into accepting the nudity as natural and non-sexual, and therefore non-threatening. The posing and attitudes all suggested that the character’s disrobing was being done for art and beauty’s sake, and that anyone sexualizing it (or thinking of it as shameful) would be ruining the compact by subverting something liberating and beautiful.

But midway through the play, Beaty’s lesbian painter Amelia seduced Shields (playing a secondary character, an assistant who can help further Amelia’s career), succumbing to both her own lust, and the desire to insinuate herself into the inner circles of Paris’ cultural elite. All of a sudden, all bets were off. As Amelia slowly stripped clothes off the tough-talking shopgirl, her brusque demeanour dissolved, and was replaced with a vulnerability hitherto unseen when skin was exposed; a vulnerability that was taken advantage of. The apple had been tasted of, and for the rest of the play, the nudity was no longer quite so innocent.

Many critics marveled at the bravery of Shields and Beaty for spending so much time nude in “Montparnasse“, but it was this re-contextualizing of that nudity that was the audacious choice in their show.

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#8: Oh No Forest Fires‘ cover of “Footloose

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There were all sorts of incredible performances over the course of the Summerworks Music Series. Two of the bands on my Best Albums of 2009 list, Think About Life (#1) and Great Bloomers (#10) were among the bands who played extraordinary sets (and since they’ve already been mentioned, were “disqualified” from this list), and nearly every night, as least one of the bands got people up and dancing.

Among the best to do so, however, were ONFF and their set ending cover of Kenny Loggin’s classic “Footloose“. Faced with a smaller mid-week crowd than most of the festival’s nights, ONFF gradually got the crowd warmed up and dancing, and when they busted out “Footloose“, there wasn’t a still foot in the house.

Sadly, ONFF recently announced their last show on Jan. 23rd (which you should definitely consider attending); in the meantime, while there is a video of ONFF performing “Footloose, the sound quality is pretty terrible, so here’s a clip of them performing their own song, “It’s Not Fun and Games Unless Someone Loses an Eye“.

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(The rest of the Summerworks list, including some choice videos, follows below.)

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Categories: Comedy, Dance, Improv, Music, Theatre Tags:

Top 9 of ‘09: Best Albums

January 4th, 2010 Steve No comments

It’s twenty-ten! Last year, my own resolutions revolved mostly around getting this website off the ground and running. This year, given my lack of posts in November and December (a hiatus for a few weeks became habit-forming), I’m resolving to more consistently post the weekly update, and try and institute some subtle changes to the site, among them an integrated GTS Twitter account, a sidebar tweak (some third party ads should crop up, but I promise they won’t be intrusive), a monthly music playlist, and an easier interface for posted MP3s.

Before we get to new business, however, I have a series of end of year recap posts planned for music, theatre, and comedy. As befitting the year that just ended, they’re kept to 9 (though some, like this post, will also have the same number of “honourable mentions”). First up on deck:

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Best Albums (LPs) of 2009

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#9. Josh Reichmann Oracle BandCrazy Power

Josh Reichmann Oracle Band - Crazy Power

Best track: “Fractal Web

If Toronto had an equivalent to NYC’s The Strokes in the 2000s, both in sound and local buzz, it was Tangiers; the rock and post-punk band garnered considerable local acclaim for their 3 strong albums and energetic live shows from 2002-2005. When Tangiers dissolved in 2006, lead singer Reichmann experimented with a few different projects and sounds, releasing a debut solo album in ‘07 under the moniker Jewish Legend. The album showed a lot of promise, though it was a little too out there and dark to appeal to a wide segment of T.O.’s music fans. Crazy Power, however, while still venturing into all sorts of odd musical genres, is poppy and upbeat where previous effort Telepathy Now! was obtuse and challenging (continuing the Strokes comparison, their lead singer Julian Casablancas almost made this list for his own solo album this year, but we’re getting off topic). Anyway, Reichmann seems to have really hit his stride, and the album evokes all sorts of soul and funk comparisons, most notably to Prince. Songs like “Shivering Black” and “Sea at Night” are full of falsetto flourishes, calypso beats, and all manner of interesting instrumentation. Live, the Oracle Band is still a bit chaotic, but that’s A-OK by me – my favourite album of last year, Miracle Fortress’s Five Roses, took a while to bring to life on stage, too.

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#8. Dan ManganNice, Nice, Very Nice

Dan Mangan - Nice, Nice, Very Nice

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Best Track: “Robots

Mangan’s already received a lot of praise for his finely crafted debut album this year, including being awarded the XM Verge Award for Artist of the Year (an award that came as a shock to many who expected the award would go to a harder edged rock band), and Two CBC Radio 3 Bucky Awards, for Best Vocals and Best Song of the year. He ended the year on a high note, too, being named Best New Artist of the Year by iTunes Canada. Word spread quickly amongst the tight knit Canadian blogosphere and music community in 2009 about his exceptional stage craft skills and approachable persona; I’ve been at several live shows and in-stores, and Mangan always puts an effort in to turn new fans into friends after his set is over. While “N, N, VN” isn’t a re-invention of the wheel, it’s a album of exceptionally pleasant and straight-forward singer-songwriter tunes, and Mangan displays wit and charm throughout, including having had a hand in producing the terrific 80’s gang fight homage video for lead single “Robots”.

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For the rest of the list, including a cornucopia of videos and MP3s, click “more”…

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Summerworks Festival 2009: The Music Series

August 14th, 2009 Steve No comments

When Artistic Director Michael Rubenfeld took the reins of the Summerworks Festival last year, one of the most wide-reaching changes to the festival he instituted was opening it up to performance art (The Summerworks Performance Gallery) and live music (The Music Series).

Bob Wiseman was on the bill for the inaugeral Summerworks Music Series last year; this year, the multi-faceted perfromer is presenting a show in the theatre series, "Actionable".

Bob Wiseman was on the bill for the inaugural Summerworks Music Series last year; this year, the multi-faceted performer is presenting a show in the theatre series, "Actionable".

The inuagural 2008 Summerworks Music Series had a stellar line-up, programmed by Baudelaire record label founder Evan Newman; between Newman and Rubenfeld, they were able to book some of the hottest Toronto acts, including The Rural Alberta Advantage (who’ve exploded in the past year thanks to raves for their SXSW shows this spring, and a glowing review on Pitchfork), Gentleman Reg (who’s also been getting a lot of attention for his recent release on the Arts and Crafts label, “Pitch Black”), and The Diableros.

I was honoured to write profiles of most of the music acts on the Summerworks blog last year, at Michael’s request. I haven’t had time to do the same this year, being focused on my own site, but there’s been some really great coverage by some of their staff members, including interviews with Rajiv Thavanathan of On No Forest Fires, DD/MM/YYYY, and Matthew Barber, who is one of the few returning acts from last year’s Music Series.

This year’s line-up is equally jaw-droppingly good, due in no small part to Michael’s inspired selection of Eric Warner to curate this year’s festival. Warner’s no stranger to programming first rate music festivals; he launched the Over the Top Festival before he was even of drinking age, and for the 2009 Music Series, he’s not only landed some of the city’s best independent local acts, but he’s also scored some of the hottest acts from Montreal, too, including Miracle Fortress (shortlisted for the 2008 Polaris Prize) and Think About Life (long-listed for the 2009 Polaris Prize).

There’s still plenty of incredible bands on the slate for this weekend’s shows, including Thursday’s double bill of The D’Urbervilles and Forest City Lovers, Friday’s of The Josh Reichmann Oracle Band and The Sunparlour Players ( SPP delivered an awe-inspiring performance at the festival launch and during the Music Series last year), and a fantastic triumphant return home for Great Bloomers (recently touted by Gordon Lightfoot as one of the best new music acts in Canada), and Germans, who’ve been touring North America and Europe in 2009, and will be playing their first local show in over a year.

You can listen to terrific tracks from all of the artists on the Summerworks site via their embedded player, but here’s a few more goodies, including a video from Think About Life, whose set last Friday just about brought the roof down on the Theatre Centre.

Miracle Fortress – Blasphemy

Josh Reichmann Oracle Band – Sea at Night

Great Bloomers – Young Ones Slept

Categories: Dance, Music, Theatre Tags:

Summerworks Festival 2009: Theatre

August 12th, 2009 Steve No comments

Theatre, Comedy, Music, Dance, and more; it’s all happening at the Summerworks Indie Theatre and Arts Festival, running August 6th-16th along Queen St. West, at more than a half dozen venues. My apologies to anyone who has a show that’s NOT Summerworks-associated, but this week’s postings are 100% festival focused ( August 14th’s edition of the update will revert back to the usual format).

This first of three special Summerworks posts starts off focusing on the original and largest element of the festival… Theatre.

Erin Shields (Writer of last year's Summerworks hit "If We Were Birds" and performer in "Fewer Emergencies" at last year's Summerworks) and Maev Beaty (Dora-nominated for last year's "Dance of the Red Skirts") follow up their last paired collaborative effort ("Goblin Market") with "Montparnasse", a nuanced and sensual piece about nude models in 1930s Paris.

Erin Shields and Maev Beaty follow up their last paired collaborative work ("Goblin Market") with "Montparnasse", a nuanced and sensual piece about nude models in 1920s Paris (photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard).

I’ve seen exactly 1/3 of the 42 plays in the “Local” and “National” categories as of this post, and there have been some real standouts. There’s also a number of shows that I’ve already seen in one form or another prior to this festival, that I can confidently recommend.

If you’re looking for drama, both of the shows Groundwater Productions is producing, “The Epic of Gilgamaesh (Up Until the Part When Enkidu Dies)” and “Montparnasse“, are sure bets to see fascinating and theatrically accomplished work. “Montparnasse” in particular has garnered excellent word of mouth based on their 1st act preview at the Rhubarb Festival earlier this year, and I’m happy to report that the full version of the show has been brilliantly realized. Writers/actors Erin Shields and Maev Beaty shed all,  playing nude models – one an aspiring artist, the other a hedonistic dilettante – and their artist patrons and bohemian acquaintances in 1920s Paris.

Carlos Gonzales-Vio is strong contender for best male performer at this year's Summerworks, for his seamless integration with the rest of the ensemble in the multimedia show "Nohayquiensepa", and his standout performance as the beast man Enkidu in "The Epic of Gilgamesh".

Carlos Gonzales-Vio is a strong contender for best male performer at this year's Summerworks, for his moving ensemble work in the multimedia show "Nohayquiensepa", and his standout performance as the beast man Enkidu in "The Epic of Gilgamesh" (photo by Amanda Lynne Ballard).

Also showing a fair bit of skin in their production is Ecce Homo, who had a huge hit on their hands last year with their production of “The Pastor Phelps Project“. This year’s offering is “The Ecstasy of Mother Teresa (or, Agnes Bojaxhiu, Superstar)“, the third and final in their trilogy of collective creations based on quotes concerning controversial figures of the 20th century. While almost every spoken word in the show is a quote, the assemblage of the show is original, and whereas the nudity in “Montparnasse” is integral to the plot, in “Mother Teresa”, it’s just one of many elements (music, dance. video) that enhance the spectacle of the production.

Other multi-media productions worth noting include Aluna Theatre’s “Nohayquiensepa“, and Daniel Barrow’s “Everytime I See Your Picture, I Cry“. “Nohay”, a less titillating, but far more technologically adept show than “Mother Teresa”, is a “workshop production” that uses a physically agile ensemble and an astounding array of projections, video, and audio recordings to give a vague and affecting eulogy to victims of violence, “inspired by events in a Columbian river town on the fringe of great violence”.

Barrow’s show builds on his previous work creating hand illustrated overhead projection shows – he describes his work as “manual animation” – with several key new developments; it becomes clear early on in the show that this is not autobiographical, but is a weird and surreal narrative, and Barrow for the first time is “invisible” to his audience. Previous shows have had him clearly visible manipulating his projector, but in this show, he’s hidden away on the balcony of Theatre Passe Muraille, and the audience focuses solely on his moving images. I had some issues with the narrative (the show could really use a program), but there’s no denying this is a wholly original theatrical experience.

Project Undertow's "Melancholy Play" has it all: a sparkling, witty script, a deft directorial debut from Rosa Laborde, a gorgeous set, and a uniformly enchanting (and, also, gorgeous) ensemble cast.

Project Undertow's "Melancholy Play" has it all: a sparkling, witty script, a deft directorial debut from Rosa Laborde, a gorgeous set, and a uniformly enchanting (and also gorgeous) ensemble cast.

The final two shows I’m strongly recommending (that I’ve seen – I expect I’ll have some new shows to highlight come this weekend’s update) are both resolutely comedies, though their titles and topic material might suggest otherwise.

The National Theatre of the World, who I wrote about at length when they launched their series “Impromptu Splendor“, have finally brought their improv act to a theatre festival, and it’s truly gratifying to see theatre audiences realizing what this company does is brilliantly theatrical, though their techniques are rooted in comedy. The company members – Naomi Snieckus, Ron Pederson, and Matt Baram – research a playwright’s work to prepare for a show; on “opening night”, they ask the audience for a few random suggestions, then spontaneously create a one act play “inspired” by the featured playwright. I’ve seen them perform shows you’d swear were written by David Mamet or Judith Thompson, and it’s almost impossible to believe the three are creating as they go – but it’s 100% written before your eyes, and must be seen to be believed.

Last but certainly not least, my favourite show to date at the festival, “Melancholy Play“, is anything but. Ingrid Rae Doucet stars as a blonde depressive who finds that her maudlin demeanor causes people of both sexes and all walks of life to fall head over heels for her – until she overcomes her depression and realizes her new-found cheerfulness has the opposite effect. This absurd and delightful farce boasts a surfeit of comedic talent, and director Rosa Laborde, herself a Dora and Governor General Award nominated playwright, makes an assured directorial debut. While the script itself is by American playwright Sarah Ruhl, it’s an outstanding example of a independent Canadian company (Project Undertow) demonstrating great prowess in all aspects of theatrical production; the performances, live music, sets, and costumes are all note perfect.

Next up: a post about the stellar Summerworks Music Series (with lots of choice new MP3s and videos), followed by a final Summerworks post about the interactive treasures of the Summerwalks, and the Performance Gallery at the Gladstone Hotel.

Categories: Comedy, Dance, Film, Improv, Music, Theatre Tags:

Fringe Festival 2009 Reviews

July 10th, 2009 Steve 2 comments
Wickedly funny bouffon clown Red Bastard's show is one of my highest rated picks for this year's Toronto Fringe Festival so far.

Wickedly funny bouffon clown Red Bastard's show is one of my highest rated shows at this year's Toronto Fringe Festival.

(It became clear to me that it would be unfair to post more Fringe reviews so late after the festival ended, by late July.

I made a tactical error in my coverage of the Fringe this year; I spent the first half of the festival trying to finish the detailed preview posts I had planned, and I didn’t begin writing reviews until close to the end of the festival, when almost a week had passed since I’d started seeing them. I was playing catch-up on a huge backlog of work, and it wouldn’t have been fair to the shows to review them after so much time had lapsed.

Next year, I’ll ensure that any non-review coverage is finished by the time I start seeing shows; in the meantime, if anyone really wants to hear my impression of a particular show that wasn’t reviewed, email me directly at steve@gracingthestage.ca, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. – Steve)

I haven’t posted to the website in the past few days, and it’s because I’ve been paralyzed by which post I should be focusing on in the few free hours I have when I’m not Fringing.  Should I focus on finishing the ridiculously overdue fourth and final “preview” of Fringe shows? The previous three took enormous amounts of work to write, because I found and hot-linked each show’s FB listing AND website (where possible), and also did enough research for each show (and there were 12 per post!) to zero in on its most salient attributes.

Should I focus on writing up the weekly update, and try and cram as much Fringe into it as possible? It’s slowly coming together, but those are pretty time intensive too. Besides, the only shows that aren’t Fringe related that are listed before Monday are the FREE outdoor concerts this weekend at the Harbourfront Centre’s Beats, Breaks, and Culture Festival:  Holy Fuck (9:30pm), Winter Gloves (8pm), and DD/MM/YYYY (11pm) on Friday, and Broken Social Scene (8pm) and Parallels (7:30pm) on Saturday. So I don’t feel too badly putting that off until Fringe wraps up Sunday evening.

Ultimately, the question people have asked the most is when the capsule reviews of the shows I’ve seen (24 and counting, 41 by the end of my schedule) will start going up. And truthfully, they’re the least labour intensive. Besides, many of the shows that were to be profiled in my final preview post (“Red Bastard“, “Bingo: The Show“, KidsFringe shows like “Rock Time 2009“, etc.), I’ve already seen, and will be reviewing (most quite positively).

So here’s what’s going to happen: I’ll update this post frequently over the next (and final) few days of Fringe with a handful of short reviews at a time. Keep checking back to see the new ones; I’ll be updating this post as often and as quickly as I can between Fringe shows, and late at night.

The cast of David Hein's (centre) "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding" have a big hit on their hands' the shows' been selected for the Best of Fringe since the second day of the Festival, and has had huge line-ups every day at Bread and Circus.

The cast of David Hein's (centre) "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish-Wiccan Wedding" have a big hit on their hands; the show's been selected for the Best of the Fringe since the second day of the Festival, and has had huge line-ups every day at Bread and Circus.

(For Fringe reviews, click on the “more”).

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Categories: Comedy, Dance, Film, GTS Update, Improv, Music, Theatre Tags:

Fringe 2009 Preview #3: Musical / Dance

July 6th, 2009 Steve 6 comments
The "World's oldest Father and Son Cajun Music Duo", The Williamson Playboys, present a new revue (featuring some VERY old songs) at the Fringe Club.

The "World's Oldest Father and Son Cajun Music Duo", The Williamson Playboys, present a new revue (featuring some VERY old songs): "Brother, Can You Spare Some Pants?".

We’re 6 days into the Fringe Festival at this point, so I feel a little awkward still titling these profile pieces as “previews”. At this point, I’ve already seen quite a few shows (you’ll have to wait for the capsule reviews to find out which, though). I had issues getting online from a few rinky dink towns out in rural Ontario this weekend, in order to get this post, and the fourth and final preview, finished and posted. But better late than never, right?

So, then; this post is all about the Musical and Dance shows in this year’s Fringe. Arguably, this is the category that’s had the most success is developing shows that have a life beyond Fringe; the most famous example, of course, would be the Broadway show “The Drowsy Chaperone“, which had its first full production at the Toronto Fringe in 1998, and went on to eventually win 5 Tonys in 2006.

Also included in this category are the Dance Initiative shows. There are technically 8 shows being presented at the Fringe with the participation of the Dance Ontario Umbrella, but I’ve snuck a few more in that aren’t official dance selections.

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Categories: Comedy, Dance, Music, Theatre Tags:

NXNE: Jason Collett

June 20th, 2009 Steve No comments

NXNE: The Lovely Feathers (2am), Jason Collett (12am), Ruby Coast (11pm), more, @ The Horseshoe Tavern, 9pm, $10 (FREE w/ NXNE Wristband)

Categories: Event, Music Tags:

CMF(est) / The Rural Alberta Advantage

March 12th, 2009 Steve No comments

Canadian Music Fest officially kicks off as of this evening. Yes, you read that right: Canadian Music Week has already been underway for the past few days. The organizers are making a concerted effort to differentiate the public, concert part of the festival from the conference and industry part. Having picked up my pass today at the Royal York, it almost seems like they’re two very different entities; one hosts forums in posh banquet halls, and holds industry events celebrating such Canadian rock stalwarts as April Wine and Randy Bachman, and the other features hungry young Canadian (for the most part) bands, signed and unsigned, playing over 500 gigs over 45 venues (closer to 55 with all the unaffliated shows) over 4 (really, 5) days.

Can you guess which entity I’m more enthusiastic about?

Amy Cole of the Rural Alberta Advantage.

Amy Cole of the Rural Alberta Advantage (photo by Frank Yang).

Tomorrow’s update will have full listings covering shows, both official and unofficial, leading right up to the after parties being held on Sunday night (I’ve got something special I’m waiting to announce, but you’ll have to wait another day).

But tonight’s first full slate of shows has some really great bands, including a set from one of my favourite Toronto bands, The Rural Alberta Advantage.

The Rural Alberta Advantage – Ballad of The RAA

Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage.

Nils Edenloff of the Rural Alberta Advantage.

This might be your last chance to see this charming folk rock trio before they explode onto the blogosphere, and start booking shows at mid-level clubs instead of tiny indie venues. They’ve already received quite a bit of attention for a handful of shows in New York City, and for their status as E-Music’s artist of the month last November. But next week, the band will be flying down to Austin, Texas, to play their first SXSW shows.

By no means are they the only CMW act to be doing so; Eye Weekly’s current cover boy Slim Twig (the RAA follow his midnight set tonight at the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom) is making his SXSW debut, and Gentleman Reg is playing quite a few shows (he’s been there before). But the RAA are opening for Grizzly Bear, and it’s the sort of slot that will attract all sorts of music cognoscenti. After all, Grizzly Bear are right up there with Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens, and TV on the Radio in terms of garnering the sort of obsessive write-ups the music blogosphere produces (any band Feist gets to appear on Letterman with her is bound to get lots of chatter).

I’ve written at greater length about The RAA in the past (their Summerworks music series profile, for instance), so I’m going to keep this brief (plus, I’ve shows to get to!). They’ll also be playing an unofficial all day affair on Saturday at the hush-hush venue Trash Palace, so if you can’t make it tonight, you’ll have one more chance before they fly down to Texas, and potential fame and fortune (fortune being relative – even Sufjan hasn’t cracked a million albums sold, despite the volumes of online print he’s had devoted to him).

Paul Banwatt of the Rural Alberta Advantage.

Paul Banwatt of the Rural Alberta Advantage.

The Rural Alberta Advantage and Slim Twig play the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom tonight, Thursday March 12th, at 1am and midnight respectively, as part of the Eye Weekly showcase; for full listings for all bands and venues  playing Canadian Music Fest (and ticket purchasing information), visit www.canadianmusicfest.com.

"Bitch Salad"

March 3rd, 2009 Steve 1 comment

When examining the career trajectory of successful female stand-ups in North America, whether they be straight (Kathy Griffin), lesbian (Ellen Degeneres), or bi (Margaret Cho), one thing becomes clear; their careers got significant boosts, and continue to enjoy success, in large part because of the support of the gay community. When it comes to female stand-ups, gay men in particular are the taste-makers; their support can help female comics, who might be ignored by the traditional comedy club circuit, break through the glass ceiling of comedy.

The performers on tonight's "Bitch Salad".

The performers on tonight's "Bitch Salad".

So it’s especially heartening to see a show like Bitch Salad in Toronto: hosted and produced by a gay man, performed at Toronto’s most important venue for queer theatre (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre), and featuring all female comedy (or, in the case of The CHEETO Girls, all dressed-as-female comedy), regardless of their orientation.

Comedian Andrew Johnston, a finalist for the 2006 Tim Sims Award, and well known to MuchMusic viewers for his frequent appearances on “Video On Trial“, has been producing the (more or less) monthly “Bitch Salad” comedy showcases since July of 2007. Actor/comic/musician Chelsea Manders, who was on that first show’s bill as one half of the musical comedy duo The Black Roses (the Roses were also nominated for the 2006 Tim Sims as well), is headlining the bill tonight with her new duo with Ingrid Haas, Charity and Chastity.

The link to the Tim Sims awards is particularly strong with this month’s edition of Bitch Salad, “Freshly Tossed Bitches“. Johnston has managed, in a producing coup, to book ALL of this past year’s female nominees; stand up Zabrina Chevannes, character comic and improviser Alana Johston, and sketch comic Laura Cilevtiz, whose duo with fellow Sketchersons member Josh Saltzman, 7 Minutes in Heaven, was announced as the winners on Sunday night on the Comedy Network’s Cream of Comedy” TV special (which you can watch online here).

Laura Cilevitz (pictured) and Josh Saltzman of 7 Minutes in Heaven won the 2008 Tim Sims Encouragment award; the Cream of Comedy special announcing their win aired Sunday March 1st on the Comedy Network (keep your eyrs on the network schedule for repeat airings).

Laura Cilevitz's duo "7 Minutes in Heaven" won the 2008 Tim Sims Encouragment award.

In addition to all the funny femmes on the bill, drag group The Cheeto Girls will be entertaining, and I’d be mightily surprised if there isn’t music and dancing after the show. These showcases draw very healthy crowds of both comedy fans and Buddies regulars.

Oh, and a final note on Buddies, for the theatre crowd: although there’s still quite a few people understandably disappointed (myself included) at the cancellation of “Gay 4 Pay“, starring Dora-nominated actor Ben Clost, a real crowd pleaser has been announced to fill at least part of the empty space on the Buddies’ schedule; Summerworks hit “The Pastor Phelps Project” will be remounted for two nights, March 14th & 15th (EDIT: This remount has ALSO been cancelled – see comments below for a statement by Ecce Homo’s Artistic Director).

Bitch Salad: Freshly Tossed Bitches” takes over the Buddies in Bad Times Cabaret tonight, Tuesday March 3rd, at 8:30pm, $10.

Gravity Wave / Boys Who Say No / Great Bloomers

February 26th, 2009 Steve No comments

There’s been quite a bit of press for The Drake Hotel’s 5 year anniversary over the past few weeks; that is, the anniversary of its make-over and relaunch by entrepreneur Jeff Stober. In the past five years, the Drake has become many things to many people, and the various factions that have attempted to make the Drake their own have often bumped against each other.

Members of the dance rock outfit OPOPO play the Drake Hotel Underground during the year end "What's in the Box?" series, Dec. 28th '08; OPOPO have shared a bill with Gravity Wave at the Steamwhistle Unsigned Series, and with Great Bloomers as part of promoter Lauren Schreiber's No Shame music series.

Members of the dance rock outfit OPOPO play the Drake Hotel Underground during the year end "What's in the Box?" series, Dec. 28th, '08. OPOPO have shared a bill with Gravity Wave at the Steamwhistle Unsigned Series, and, like Great Bloomers, have played multiple times on promoter Lauren Schreiber's No Shame music series.

It’s been THE destination spot for out of towners and partiers flocking downtown from the Golden Horseshoe almost since the first Toronto International Film Festival parties were held there, and the crowd that frequents the upstairs bars and lounges doesn’t always see eye to eye with the local taste makers and artists of Parkdale and Queen St. W, who gravitate down to the basement venue; frankly, few of the 905 crowd even seem to realize or care that there’s a sub-culture that sees the Drake as anything other than an adult playground and meet and greet spot.

To its credit, the Drake has from the start attempted to forge connections with the various arts scenes, recognizing that if (or when) the fickle party crowd moves on to another hot spot, it’ll be the avant garde programming, and the up and coming future stars it attracts, that will bring in new clientele; the breaking-out bands, filmmakers and visual artists on the rise, comedians and literary movements, etc.

Of course, some of these have fared better in their association with the Drake then others; of late, it seems that the Drake has focused its energies on promoting cutting edge electronic and hip-hop acts in the Underground, like Skratch Bastid, who’s developed a loyal following for a monthly residency that’s stretched out over two years. But you can still see some great indie rock down there on occasion, weekly at the PWYC Elvis Monday series, for instance, or, say, with tonight’s 9pm onwards triple bill of Gravity Wave (a late replacement for Sports the Band), Boys who Say No, and Great Bloomers, which is being put on FREE of charge by the friendly folks at the Drake.

(Info about tonight’s three acts, including some choice mp3s, a video, and info on how to be in Gravity Wave’s NEXT video, after the fold.) Read more…