This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Norm Foster’s On a First Name Basis, is not typical of the kind of comedy he usually writes. This one is more a character study, but it still has plenty of funny moments. Trust me, some writers have a hard time trying to be serious without making a wise crack.

The first act moves slowly. You might even find yourself wondering at halftime why you wanted to see it, or if you should stay. Then the second half happens at a much faster pace and with more laughs. Some of the stuff you laugh at is set up in Act One. In short, you are rewarded for your patience.

Jesse Collins plays a successful writer, as in he actually sold enough books to afford a housekeeper for almost three decades. Viviana Zarrillo is the housekeeper. He’s so self absorbed, maybe his time is in demand by others to the point what goes on in his house is furthest from his mind, but it’s mostly the first, and so much he doesn’t know her name. It’s worth noting he has one redeeming quality, he hates poetry and poets – at least modern ones.

Jesse Collins
Jesse Collins

Now he suddenly wants to know more about her. There is a reason, which I won’t spoil here, and she is at first suspicious about his sudden interest, especially at quitting time when she wants to get on her way home. Of course it turns out there’s nothing much going on at home and you’ll see this particular delay plays into her hands.

Despite his curiosity, he doesn’t seem to be affected by the answers he receives. It’s more of a clinical, reporterly, reaction a writer would naturally have doing some research. There is some humour to be found, not outright laughter, but humour watching his brain get stuck on an early, interesting, but inconsequential point he wants to know more about, while missing the real answers she is giving to his questions Even at the end, after the motivation is revealed, I’m not entirely sure he’s been emotionally affected, more understanding certainly, but not too deeply affected.

Viviana Zarrillo
Viviana Zarrillo

She is wary of revealing too much right to the end. I’m not so sure I think Foster went as far as he could have when she does go further. He goes for the laugh, a few, and gets them, but in doing so misses an opportunity to resolve the underlying emotional thread. Those are kind of clinically handled, and maybe that’s to leave room for a sequel because I can see exactly how it should begin.

Last week we dealt with this being the first professional play to open in Canada since March and how it’s paving the way for other companies to reopen. Other than a one man show in PEI nothing’s happening in theaters.

I did receive a note from the Dot the T Productions people in Muskoka pointing out there is another company doing theater and they have been up and running since the beginning of August. However they are operating outdoors and I think the point was pretty clear last week bricks and mortar theaters aren’t open and are trying to figure out how to. The main stumbling blocks are the bricks and the mortar. Outdoors the walls extend as far as one wants and the economics of putting on a play are vastly different than trying to get a big enough audience inside to justify any performances.

I’m glad another company is operating and actors are getting some work, but the points made last week still stand.

Tickets have been selling well and you can get them online. When you order, like always, you’ll only get to choose available seats. When you go you’ll find empty ones between you, your party, and others because the program was adjusted to automatically create seating bubbles around those sold. Also, the bar won’t be open, but you can bring a coffee, water, or other drink and munchies with you.

The play runs to September 4. In September there are a few concerts by tribute acts leading up to October appearances by the Stampeders and by the Good Brothers with Sylvia Tyson. Seating will be limited and you can order tickets online.

Speaking Of Emotions

So many of us, OK, all of us, are shaped by our parents personalities and actions. Once in a while it produces well-rounded young adults, but it seems for most of us there’s a bit of baggage, or a whole baggage cart, of things lurking which influence how we navigate this mess called life.

It’s not always unpleasant behavior our baggage invokes, at least unpleasant to others, but you know the feeling as well as anyone else when you can’t explain why you do things you do, especially the things, major or minor, you don’t like about yourself.

Karen Hilfman’s got a book about it. The Mended Mirror is just that, the story of a mended mirror which corrects the image seen. You can download the first 20 pages and get a taste of what the book is about with a story of Karen’s own as illustration. The whole book is her stories which contribute to a larger story of her life’s work.

It begins near the end of her mother’s life with a scene which reveals a lifelong question Karen didn’t know she had at first, or even to revelation day.

“I learned the importance of listening to all the voices by just having conversations with my mother. I didn’t realize she was showing different personalities, but she would have different opinions on the same topic – all the time, and I just thought everybody did,” Karen said. She was until 2013 one of the ministers at St. Paul’s United Church.

“I’m still working with the wider church and now I’m a regional minister.”  She also was nominated to become moderator of the United Church of Canada.

“I wasn’t chosen and as soon as I knew I was off the ballot I heard deep within me there was something else I needed to focus on, and of course this all came about less than a year later.”

Karen started a counseling/coaching/facilitating service when she left St. Paul’s, continuing to help people in much the same way as she always did. Even though the book comes later, she said it was a process to explain what she does for others, and to herself. Writing it began on a specific date in 2016.

“That’s the day my sister found out she had different biological father than the dad who raised us,” Karen said. She also shares the same DNA but didn’t find that out until later. “I just said I believed if he was her biological father, he had to be my biological father to because there was no way we weren’t full sisters.” 

This was the point of taking action, but it is not the entire story.

“I also still had to figure out this whole thing about my mother with altered personalities. I only saw it a year before she died. Everything else ‘til that point we referred to as he moods or states.” Karen says her mother had 8 personalities. In one single encounter, the one above, she revealed three of them in minutes. The book goes into the others.

“That was a matter of going some really research in my own brain, from my own experiences and putting dates together from what age she was at different times and piecing it all together.”

“It was like I had all these puzzle pieces and just putting them altogether and then letting them rise to the surface. I knew bits and pieces of information, and I’ve always known it, but it didn’t have particularly any context.”

“Writing it is the process to discern the wisdom trying to emerge,” Karen said about how those events tied into her own view of how to engage with the world. The person she became, a minister, a pillar of strength to some, a shoulder to cry on to others, stems from how her mind processed how her mother acted. And as mentioned, in the back of her mind she knew it, just not consciously or concretely. “I had all these pieces, now I can see it.”

Karen Hilfman
Karen Hilfman

People who write, for themselves, or for others to read, know full well the power of putting the words on a page. We learn something every time about ourselves. Sometimes not so much, but we do learn something. Sometimes when struggling to start or to finish is a thing, it’s because there is a door in the brain we don’t want to open. Other times it’s like a 1,000 watt light bulb being turned on, helping to see things we can embrace.

This is also kind of what happens in the hands of a good therapist or counselor for people who don’t, or haven’t discovered the power of writing. You can hear yourself tell yourself, often what you inherently knew, answers to questions you’ve been asking.

“That’s the model I use when I work with people, it’s to hold the space for them to discover their own wisdom,” Karen said. “Everything that you are now claiming for yourself as a good insight comes from you. That’s my model.” It’s a step to healing a troubled mind. “(These are) what otherwise would be the secrets, or unknown reasons behind the stories that bother us. Not unpacking them causes such a burden in our lives.”

She practices what she preaches in private, non-church, related work.

“As I trace it from there all the way through as to what was happening around me with my mother that helped me become to be more passionate about authentic connection because she couldn’t show up as one authentic, consistent person.”

“I’ve made a point of my life of making sure people have a chance to (see) the multitude of perspectives they have on any one topic and I learned that from mom, that people do need to talk to get to their wisdom.”

Reading the book isn’t the solution to all life’s problems. Especially if one reads it in the same way one would read any other self-help book, but you are likely to see similarities to your own questions and experiences, maybe trigger an answer to an old question, or discover a question you didn’t know you had.

“That’s my hope. I don’t want you to investigate this book from the prospective what do you think the author meant by this.  (Its) what insight does this give you about you.”

“I don’t want them (readers) to do a Grade 5 literature discussion about my book; I want them to have a deep, in-depth engagement as to how it affects their lives.”

You can get a copy at Manticore Books, or online.

The Shorts

*  Hawksley Workman headlines the Orillia Youth Centre’s Roots North Music Festival Revisited concert happening September 26th at Sunset Barrie Drive-in (Oro-Medonte Line 4 at Highway 11). Get tickets now. They are $35 each, but if you have 3 friends, and you’re going to be in the same car, you can get 4 tickets for $125, which is a discount. The concert, as in past years, is sponsored, this time by Dapper Depot and Harveys, so all the proceeds will go to the youth center.

Creative Nomad Studios has an event happening during Friday’s pedestrian mall. We all know what BYOB means, but for this the final B means bubble. You get to learn to paint with Steph Whalen and 3 friends or family members. Get details and tickets here. All the materials for your table of 4 are included.  Also Friday night Uptique boutique‘s Janet Brandenburg-Gilmour will demo how she refinishes a table – which will be part of the functional scenery when the studio reno is finished. And the art created during the pedestrian mall art project Metamorphosis by Catherine Cadieux, Pauline Tofflemire, Katheryn Kaiser, Virginia Barlow, Marlene Bulas, Douglas Porter, Cathy Boyd, Paul Baxter, Tanya Cunnington, Stephanie Whalen, Raune-lea Marshall, Dyln Court, and Anitta Hamming is on display in the windows..

*  OMAH’s new version of QuarARTine, 6×6 pieces for auction, is up here. There are 20 new pieces in this 4th round and so far the museum has raised $2100 of which a portion will be donated to the arts community. OMAH also has a fascinating new article about Mazo de la Roche here, and has been posting videos on Youtube of the Speaker’s Night’s that would have been. The most recent is about Glenn Gould, and the one before is about a group of RCMP officers drowning on Lake Simcoe. See the whole bunch here. And the gallery is open by appointment, 705-326-2159.

*  The annual compilation album, music from the artists who would have performed at this year’s Mariposa Folk Festival, is available. This time its music by Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, David Francey, Dala, Reuben and the Dark, OKAN, and others The vinyl is $40 and the CD $20. You can order them at 705-326-3655. Shipping and taxes are extra. You can save the shipping cost by arranging pick up. They also have some videos to enjoy on their Youtube page, or their website

*  The Leacock Museum is open again. Admission is limited to small groups, 5 people max,  and you have to call ahead 705-329-1908 to book a tour of Stevie’s old house. The  hours are noon to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. The Bistro is still closed. Swanmore Hall is available for business meetings of no more than 10 people, but is otherwise closed. Check the website for updates and more details.

*  The Orillia branch of Dress For Success has a progressive, online, raffle called Toonie Tuesday. Tickets are $2 and you can buy as many as you like. Half of what you spend goes into the pot, the other half to Dress For Success. Jackpots have reached $1000. Check their Facebook page frequently for updates on the jackpot and weekly winners.  

*  ODAC and the Orillia Museum of Art and History opened nominations for this year’s Orillia Regional Arts & Heritage Awards. The categories are Education in Arts, Culture and Heritage; Emerging Artist; Heritage: Restoration, Renovation and Publication; Event in Arts, Culture and Heritage; and Qennefer Browne Achievement Award. Nomination information and forms are online.

*  The Orillia Public Library has a number of things you can do online through their website. They have games and programs to participate in as individuals or in groups. You can download music, movies and audiobooks. You can also take online courses.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Jesse Collins and Viviana Zarrillo in Norm Foster’s On a Fist Name Basis at the Opera House.

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