This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Buckle up. It’s Mariposa weekend. They still have a couple hundred tickets available and you can get them online.

This was originally going to be mostly about Mariposa, and should be, but something came up. This would have been the 25th year in a row for the festival happening back in Orillia, if it weren’t for the pandemic.

They could write a textbook on how to stage a festival because the volunteer organizing committee has become so professional at what they do. The success is not only with the performer lineups they assemble and it’s knowing how to be hosts, from the environment crew on up the chain.

At first I was skeptical of this year’s lineup, but the more I dug into who the players are, the more I thought this year will stand with the others. It is a folk festival after all, and not a Pop or Rock festival, so I, and you, should not assume because some of the names aren’t recognizable they aren’t going to deliver great entertainment.

If you are going, have fun. If not, I kind of feel sorry you are missing out on the best thing which happens in Orillia every year. Don’t forget to go downtown Friday afternoon, Mariposa has a lineup of acts to enjoy for free starting at 11:30 a.m.

Summer Theater Opens: Review?

Norm Foster’s The Long Weekend opened Wednesday at the Opera House.

There is no review of the play. And there won’t be for any of the plays happening at the Opera House this summer.

It seems, so I’m told, there are no seats.

I quote a text message, which mirrors the voice message I received:

“It’s Emily Martin, I’m the new Theatre Manager at the Opera House. I got a message that you called this morning and I wanted to make sure my  phone message from yesterday was recorded on your phone okay (it was, which is why I called back expressing my shock). I just tried leaving another message but it cut me off. (Here comes the important part) We are almost completely sold out for the Long Weekend and I have no spare tickets. As part of my position, I’ve been asked (referred to in the voice message as by Mike – likely Michael Ladouceur the director of business development, tourism and modernization) to review our comp ticket policy so we won’t have any available for the shows this summer. With such a limited space for our popular shows, we’re just taking a look at our options. Sorry for such a long text, I just wanted (yada, yada; we’re past anything that matters in that message).”

To add insult to injury, they apparently don’t realize everyone can see their Facebook posts. Later that day, Wednesday, the Opera House posted this:

“Our first performances start today! The Long Weekend has it all: 4 brilliant actors, a script by a comedy master, and another extraordinary OOH production. There’s still a few seats left in the run (including a couple of rush seats for tonight’s preview) but we’ve added extra Saturday afternoon shows. Kick off your summer with The Long Weekend! Runs July 3 – 19”

First of all, this is how I find out the Opera House has a new manager. Never mind it took two months for me to find out Wendy Fairbairn moved on. Second, tickets for reviewers are not spares and no one in entertainment thinks otherwise.

Being told there are no seats (but there are) is glaringly by design.

No reviewer can do their job buying tickets to shows. Only reviewers from the Globe and Mail see shows with tickets their employer bought, but their editorial policy is such and they have deep pockets to pay for everything. All production entities want reviewers in the house, even for sold out shows, except, it appears, the City.

I’m taking this personally. This is not a position based on this instance, but a long series of sometimes little things accumulating since Ian Brown was walked out of City Hall.

Someone in senior management at City Hall does not like criticism. There are several things I have negatively criticized about the administration, sometimes pointedly as in the outcome of the contest to rebuild 70 Front Street and the recent administration mess that still ended up with a fireworks ban despite staff’s effort to expand using fireworks (which was exactly opposite of what council asked for), or in passing as with the poor lighting and sound quality of the rebuilt council chamber. It’s not difficult to think some retaliation is going on.

That is not to say I have not had positive opinions of things relating to City actions. Most times those opinions were relayed directly to councillors, or the mayor (usually when council does not follow staff recommendations), or to staffers, rather than in print – unless they related to criticisms I have already published, and any praise can be found in the next publication.

So to the point, there is something wrong with how the administration views the entire culture portfolio. The administration does not understand aesthetics at all (more below) or how the culture community views some of their actions.

It started the day the culture department was abolished and the function rolled into parks and rec. This was a backward move, but admittedly many municipalities structure themselves that way. The recent further
diminishment of culture as a function of the economic development department, as it was positioned in the staff report on the abandonment of the council committee structure and policy, shows the upper echelon of administration does not understand culture.

So, this notion expressed by voicemail and text, infers they don’t need reviews to sell tickets. Indeed the shows are selling well, which may or may not have anything to do with the positive reviews of summer theater the past two years. How did they think their seat sales increased year by year since they got into a groove of picking the right plays and doing them well? How do they think they can maintain sales in the long run if they are the only ones saying anything about their productions?

But that is not the point of a review, reviewers are not ticket agents. Never have been and never will be. We are a check on the perceptions of those directly responsible for a performance (i.e. the performers, the directors and production crew). Reviewers are not in their bubble. It can happen everyone concerned thinks by way familiarity of the material and how their ears and eyes get accustomed to what happens in rehearsal they become oblivious to easily fixable errors.

I know, I have been on the other end and I always welcomed informed opinion about what I was doing.

A good reviewer does not trash an entire production, but hones in on what can be overcome quickly. Things like the pit band being too loud, microphones poorly EQ’d, the overall PA sound being off, or timing mistakes are some of the things here. Those are the kinds of things a production crew can get used to, but fresh eyes and ears notice. You can’t fix a script if it’s not good, but you can point out when things would get a better laugh with some quick adjustments. I tend to balance my takes with observations of things that went well, or are cleverly done.

I have always approached my criticism of cultural productions that way. Sometimes there is no hope, but not often. I do not like to be too critical of performances, the performers usually know when things aren’t working, and in Orillia many performances are done by amateurs (who in many cases do not give amateurish performances). I try to be fresh eyes and helpful.

This is one reason I do not go to see clone band performances. My experience has been bad with most of them. Too many posers cashing in, rather than musicians making a show of material they love. I don’t need to spend my time dragging a show through the mud and I’d rather type all morning long to tell you about something I found to be exciting – even if there are some flaws to point out.

This is also not a case of late to the party. I expressed back on May 4 I would be doing reviews on each opening night of the summer theater schedule (as has been custom for 29 years) . I called last week to follow up because I had not received anything about picking up tickets, thinking there is little chance of getting seats I prefer if they had not set aside the ones I usually get.

And on that, that’s not me insisting of any kind of special treatment. I like to sit in the same seats, or in Gord’s room as close to my preferred viewing, simply to have a consistent take from show to show.

Furthermore, while I was aware the former culture manager moved on to a new job running culture in Huntsville (why do we keep losing administrative staff to smaller municipalities?). It was only by accident I was introduced to the new manager, Allie Bradford, a couple weeks ago, which was months after she got the job.

No one thought maybe she should get in touch with someone who had a hand in crafting the first public art policy, or the updated policy, was on the cultural roundtable and directly responsible for getting the reconstruction of the Market Square on council’s table, or the naming of the Arts District, had the idea to resurrect the ODAC Awards into an event, has decades of historical and institutional knowledge of Orillia’s culture and has made a career of putting forward ideas to improve the cultural health of Orillia, and getting behind great ideas others have had.

One would think giving a head’s up to reach out to key players was in order. I’m still waiting for that conversation, and don’t expect it to happen because it’s been a month since being introduced.

I’ve been disinvited before. Casino Rama banned me over one bad and justified review (anyone remember the Everly Brothers concert where half the house walked out a few tunes into the show because it sounded terrible?), only for them to make overtures when they realized they needed reviews when the theater opened and the thin-skinned former casino CEO and PR manger were sacked. It was good while it lasted. I enjoyed most of the shows, but when it became too much to keep doing their concerts because other local groups were suffering for attention, I explained to them they didn’t need my reviews any longer and I had to end it.

I’m not losing sleep over this. There are too many other things going on I can give attention to. Regardless if this is targeting SUNonline/Orillia, or all reviewers this policy is rubbish. I do not blame the new manager. If she has any experience, she knows the drill. I’m sure she is being told what to do.

On A Roll

While I’m ranting about things the City does. Have you been to Couchiching Beach Park lately? Specifically the boardwalk? I’m curious who thinks it’s a good idea to let the waterfront view get taken over by vegetation that should have been removed long ago.

The boardwalk at Couchiching Beach Park

Image 1 of 4

This is unsightly. I’m no horticulturalist, but even if those aren’t weeds, they are being allowed to exist in totally the wrong place. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on that boardwalk to set up one of the most magnificent views of any City, and neglecting to maintain it is tragic. Even a rose bush growing there is wrong.

I have expressed my opinion to councillors in private many times we do a poor job with the little things, like taking out the weeds growing around light poles in the downtown, or not sending the street washer down Mississaga Street the night before major events, and now this.

Did anyone’s mother ever ask, “did you wash behind your ears?” It’s not like she didn’t notice first. This is the same thing. We can’t spend tons of money on niceties and not give them a cleaning once in a while. Tourists will notice.

(photo by MJ Pollak)

On a positive note, MJ Pollak posted photo of Golden Leaves with the information plaque situated directly in front of the monument. This annoyed a lot of people who saw the post on Facebook.

I was set out to go off on what a dumb idea it is, but then found out it was the work of vandals. They pulled the plaque out of the ground and moved it. Park staff had already moved it back to where it belongs by Thursday evening.

A Side Note

If you missed the CBC’s broadcast of May’s tribute to Gordon Lightfoot concert from Massey Hall on July 1, the CBC has uploaded the video to Youtube

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: 2023 Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia at Tudhope Park.

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