This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

The 2021 Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards, the ORAHs, happened Wednesday night at St. Paul’s Centre. There were at least 120 people on hand, which is kind of back where the awards started when the ODAC awards moved to the Geneva Event Centre three years ago before teaming up with the Orillia Museum of Art and History and changing the name of the awards in 2019. There was a loose plan to grow the audience from the few dozen of past year’s experience into an affair the community could really get behind with hundred showing up to celebrate the arts.

The trajectory was to go to St. Paul’s when audience got too big for the Geneva – and then on to the Opera House when St. Paul’s became too small. Interestingly, it arrived at St. Paul’s about the time I figured it would, but only because, as I was told, the Geneva wasn’t yet ready to reopen. Who knows, the audience was growing significantly, 2019’s was 160 people, 2020’s was online and maybe if it had been a live last year the capacity would have been reached at the Geneva. With many people still wary of attending events, it was good to see so many come out.

The list of the winners is:

  • Education in the Arts, Culture and Heritage Award – the Orillia Music Centre; nominees were Alex Andrews, Heartworks Children’s Studio, and Ron and Ann Harrison. 
  • Emerging Artist AwardSam Johnston; nominees Brazzledazzle and Norman Catchpole.
  • Heritage: Restoration, Renovation and Publication Award – Fred Blair; nominee Michael Hill.
  • Event in the Arts, Culture and Heritage Award Streets Alive Productions’s Hippie Van Sculptures; nominees Mariposa Arts Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night; OMAH History Committee’s History Speakers Series.
  • Qennefer Browne Achievement AwardBlair Bailey; nominees Lance Anderson, Dick Johnston and Ron Schell.

As you can see each category was stacked with winners, both potential and for all intent and purpose. I know each recipient was surprised their names were called, but I think Sam was in a bit of shock, and Blair definitely was.

ORAH Awards hosts Peter and Sadie Stranks

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Most of you are familiar with the award winners and most of the nominees and their accomplishments, except for maybe Fred Blair. Fred published a book of short stories about Upper Canadian experiences during the War of 1812, a book about WWI veterans from St. James’ Anglican Church and recently published a series about Orillia’s settlers, which OMAH compiled into a book called, Orillia’s Early Settlers. His books are available at OMAH’s bookstore.

If one were to ask those in the audience if they had a good time, the answer would be yes. I am absolutely sure the nominees and the recipients were happy to have so many on hand to share their moment of excitement.

The hosts this year were Peter Stranks and his daughter Sadie. Greg Hamilton provided some music.

You can watch the program on OMAH’s Youtube channel.

A Review of A Concert Yet To Happen

I had a bit of luck to sit in on the recording of Peter Stoll’s Orillia Concert Association concert premiering online this Sunday. Peter has been here before and this time he had Adam Zukiewicz along to accompany on piano. They recorded at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – where the concert would have been anyway if the OCA hadn’t decided to do the first two of their five concert series online only.

You can see the concert by ordering a season ticket here. It’s only $70 and I dare you to find a better deal to see a concert of this type anywhere – let alone five. Here’s why you should do this right away. They have to send you back the link to watch the concert – if you want to be in on the ground floor. The OCA is making it available for 30 days.

Here’s another reason to see this concert. It’s about one tune really. He plays two sections of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Peter prefaced playing by saying he found the arrangement and it was obviously written by someone who doesn’t play clarinet because there’s are passages of 16th note runs that go on for bars on end without a chance to breathe, so he said was going to use circular breathing to get through it.

I thought Maynard Ferguson was the one who popularized circular breathing, but before I went out on the wrong end of the limb I thought I’d look it up. It turns out it’s an old technique Mongolians used making gold jewellery adapted by musicians centuries ago. What happens is wind players store some air in their cheeks and breathe in through the nose while pushing the pocket of air into their instrument. Maynard had big cheeks because when he did it he was loud. Anyway, in checking things out I found out Kenny G set a record playing one continuous note for over 45 minutes – and I thought all his songs were like that, one continuous, boring note of CD length.

Adam Zukiewicz and Peter Stoll

Seriously, I thought I was going to run out of breath when Peter did it. You’ll also like the other tunes on the classical part of his concert. I often joke about clarinets and clarinet players (and as I do with all non-drummers), but this time I have nothing but respect for what I heard Peter do.

Then he dragged out his saxophone. He does some Gershwin – yes, Rhapsody in Blue, but he starts it stunningly on clarinet before switching to sax, Some Artie Shaw (a killer Back Bay Shuffle), and Woody Herman’s Blues on Parade. He also did Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing, but I had to bug out to get to the Betty and the Bobs concert. I wanted to hear it. I wonder what might have happened if he knew someone was in a pew who actually knows the Gene Krupa drum parts –there is a drum set in the church.

The first in person concert of the series is February 20 with Sonic Escape (Maria Millar, violin and Shawn Wyckoff, flute) at St. Andrew’s, followed by the replacements. No not the rock band, but in this case the Hog Town Brass is replacing the previously announced Royal Hamilton Light Infantry band (it’s is a military unit and the government isn’t letting them perform in public yet) for March 27ths concert at the Opera House. The final concert is May 1 with the Toronto All Star Big Band. If you get your season tickets now, there will be just enough time to catch the series opener with Sinfonia Toronto before the 30 day viewing window closes.

Oh God, More Reviews

I may have forgotten to mention at the beginning of all this to grab a coffee, or something in a coffee mug, and get comfortable. Last Friday night the Old Town Hall Players had their first performance since we’ve been allowed to go out and play. It was at the Opera House and they had more than 100 in the audience.

They also had more people on stage acting up than for past shows with new cast members joining regulars Doug Ironside, Kevin Scharf, Murph Roger, Stephen Bainborough, Kristen Keller, Ted Coach, Mike Mercier and James McKenna. The new folks are Stephanie Anderson, Janet McMordie, and Caitlin Robson. Caitlin was Viola in MAT’s Twelfth Night.

The show was called A Shot in the Arm and I think it was Caitlin who in one scene came up with “two shots, no pants” which would have been a nice subtitle for the event. Of course with improv the titles have no bearing on the show.

Doug, who serves the Drew Carey function in the production, started the show with a good laugh. He announced there would be door prizes, then in the next breath said he just realized he left the door prizes at home.

It was different having it in Gords Room as opposed to their usual venue, The Geneva Event Centre. People were spread out in the room, and while the bar was open for the first time in what seems like a gazillion years, it’s not the same as at a smaller club. I think maybe the whole idea of improv either doesn’t work in such a big room, or needs a different approach of some kind.

Not that what the players did on stage wasn’t funny. It’s not just what they say, but what they do as well. There’s a kind of communication between players and with the audience that feeds on itself that happens when people are in closer quarters. I think the most fascinating thing for me was watching how the actors responded to the situations the audience provided and to each other. Improv is not for slow thinkers. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you hit big, and sometimes you miss. The objective is to be funny as much as possible and even the most famous of comedians and comic actors will tell you sometimes they do the exact same things with different audiences and get different reactions.

Even though most of the audience seemed to be finding things to laugh about most of the time it felt to me like it needed more intimacy in the seats and between the seats and the stage and the night would have been a lot better than it was.

Plot twist – the ticket taker ended up on stage. Craig Mainprize, who usually dispenses tickets at the Opera House box office on show nights, and sometimes comes out of the fish bowl to the lobby to help get checked in was the between halves entertainment for the show. There were three halves and he sang some covers and some of his own music, which I think people who may not have seen him perform before really enjoyed.

Last Saturday, Betty and the Bobs played a Mariposa-in-Concert gig at St. Paul’s Centre. There were 200 on hand for that, though the way they configured the chairs it looked like a lot more. St. Paul’s can fit 400.  Mariposa made the choice to sell only 200, so as far as they were concerned it was a sellout.

I was saying the last couple weeks it was going to be a fun night, and it was. Wendell Ferguson, Rich Greenspoon, David Matheson, Soozi Schlanger, Suzie Vinnick, Katherine Wheatley and David Woodhead are solo performers in their own right – well Rich Greenspoon I would think usually has to play drums with other musicians to back him up, but you know what I mean, he does play with a number of bands.

Wendell Ferguson, Suzie Vinnick, Katherine Wheatley, Rich Greenspoon (drums) and
Soozi Schlanger of Betty and the Bobs

What that means is you get 7 people on stage who are used to being the centre of attention and we end up with a ham sandwich. A tasty ham sandwich. Except for Greenspoon they all had a turn as lead on the songs they did and most of those tunes came from their own repertoires. The things I remember most about a program of great music was Wendell’s Cascade from his Wendell Ferguson Live album an instrumental that showed he’s one of the best guitarists in the country. Of course, he also did Great Big Johnson, which is a song about a boat motor, but written in a way it could be interpreted differently. Katherine had the band behind her for Hallelujah, which is not to be confused with Leonard Cohen’s tune of the same title. Funny, for the number of times I’ve seen her perform, which has been at Mariposa connected events, I missed her doing this and at least now I can say I’m one of the thousands who think this is a great song.

A couple surprises, Wendell let his hair grow out. It’s longer than mine,  and Dave Woodhead always looked like the clean-cut supply teacher in the crowd of musicians anytime I’ve encountered him also let his hair grow and looks the part of the bassist in a rock band. Thing is, it also seemed like he stepped out from the anonymity of being at the back of the stage to claim a flashier stage presence.

The show opened with Moxy Fruvous’s Canadianized version of I’ve Been Everywhere, which of course Dave Matheson was a member of that band. Interestingly this song, originally about Australian geography was first adapted by Hank Snow, a Canadian, in 1962, but with American place names.

The highlight was an encore jam of a medley of Beatles tunes. The premise is Greenspoon holds a consistent beat and the band plays whatever comes to mind, provided it fits with what preceded. There was one moment when Wendell and Woodhead traded back and forth between Blueberry Hill and Oh Darling – and it’s amazing how well those tunes fit together as a mashup. At one point during the medley, the women were conspiring about something and when they had a chance to break into the jam they did Hey Jude. The audience was asleep at the wheel because when the chorus came I expected a roomful joining in, but I really didn’t hear anything. Many of the tunes the band did during the rest of the show are humourous

Also announced at the concert is Lance Anderson will be producing another February Gospel and Blues concert. Those are always great. They haven’t settled on a date, but when they do tickets will go on sale. I’ll have the info here, and don’t wait to get the tickets because this one sells quickly out every year.

The Shorts

  •  It has become apparent there are enough things happening now to resurrect The Shorts and let’s hope we don’t have to go backward on the title.        
  • The Orillia Concert Band, with Randy Hoover subbing on the arm waving front, is having an afternoon Christmas concert of shorter duration for kids Dec. 4 at 3:30 p.m. and the Christmas Prelude at 7:30 p.m. Both are at St. Paul’s Centre and you can get tickets online at the Opera House box office.  Also, they always did three concerts at retirement homes over the season, and obviously that can’t happen right now, so they are live streaming both concerts on their Youtube channel. Anyone can see the livestream, so retirees will still get entertained, but they’d like everyone else viewing online to treat it as a fundraiser and buy donation tickets through the Opera House.
  • The Orillia Silver Band’s Christmas concert happens Dec. 12 at the Opera House. They have Jazzamatazz as their guests. If you saw them at the Jazz Festival you know they were stupendous. The band’s not too shabby either. In fact, you might be getting tired of me saying they are one of the best performance ensembles I’ve seen. Get tickets at the box office.
  • At the Opera House…   The Barra MacNeils annual Christmas tour stops in Orillia Dec. 3… Barrie’s Theatre By The Bay is bringing a production called Revival to the Opera House Dec. 18… Not really a Christmas thing, the Music of the Night happens Dec. 11. All tickets are available at the box office online.
  • The Orillia Scottish Festival has a fundraising dinner, A St. Andrew’s Day Feast, happening Nov. 30 at Creative Nomad Studios. Krew Catering Company is doing the food. Leacock Medal winner Terry Fallis will be on hand to read from his new book, Operation Angus. Get tickets by Sunday morning online.
  • Creative Nomad Studios is having a Holiday Market Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. There will be 25 vendors on hand. Quayle’s Brewery (12th Line of Oro-Medonte just off Mt. St. Louis Road) is also having a Christmas Market Nov. 27 and 28, and Dec. 4 and 5.
  • The 7th annual Ugly Sweater Bowling Party happens at Orillia Bowl Dec. 17. There are only 6 lanes left to reserve. The beneficiary this year is the Sharing Place Food Bank. Register here.
  • The Lighthouse has a fundraising concert with the Steel Horse Gypsies (New Moon Junction opens) Dec. 11 at St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are a $20 donation, or you can go to the Lighthouse website and pick items to donate instead from their wish list.
  • Music… Fionn MacCool’s has Elizabeth Anderson playing Dec. 9; Olivia Duck and Michael Martyn are in Dec. 10; Even Steven is in Dec. 17… The Hog ‘N Penny has Postman Dan playing Saturday night; Jakob Pearce is in Dec.. 4; Thursday nights it’s trivia time at 7:30 p.m. … Zachary Lucky is doing two shows Jan. 14 and 15 at Picnic Snackbar; get tickets here.
  • At the galleries… Hibernation Arts opened new space in their shop, in the basement, the show is called – wait for it, Underground Art; also see the Carmichael Too show; Hibernation will be open to 7 p.m. the next few weeks… Julia Veenstra’s solo show at Cloud Gallery  opens Dec. 3 (tickets – free) and Kyle Sorenson’s happens Dec. 10 … OMAH has the fantastic, annual Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition  and a stunning exhibit of portraits by D. Ahsén:nase Douglas you have to see… Dave Beckett has a show at Tiffin’s Creative Centre opening Saturday at 10. a.m.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia) Main: Models from the Somniatis Wearable Art Show at the 2021 ORAH Awards

CORRECTION: In the Stoll section the title of the Mendelssohn piece was wrong.

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