Report: Public Salon, November 19, with Sam Sullivan and guests

Thanks to Alice Zhou (of Gracious Host Events & PR), I got an invite to attend Sam Sullivan’s Public Salon on November 19. As typical, this salon had an impressive lineup of guests, as you can see here:

Keep an eye out for the 2015 salons at the Global Civic Policy Society site.

I am sure that many of us have the intuitive sense that the political domain enforces a type of binary thinking that can work against discussing complex problems honestly and finding broad-ranging solutions. Sam Sullivan, of course, was mayor of Vancouver a few years ago, but I had forgotten that he is now a Liberal MLA for False Creek. He did not discuss his political work at all, to my recollection.

The Global Civic Policy Society, which puts on these salons, was founded by Sullivan and funded by the Annenberg Foundation, as described here on Wikipedia.

Due first to work (and just being tired from recent travel to Asia), I did not attend the pre- or post-program networking, so I undoubtedly missed out on some good opportunities to talk to interesting people. When I next attend, I hope to take full advantage of that part of the program.

For this evening’s session, as I entered the auditorium at Vancouver Playhouse, I noticed the sitarist Mohamed Assani and a percussionist playing. They provided perfect ambient music to set the pace. The musicians were dressed in traditional clothing, and although that might seem like a small thing, I felt that it is a step that can help take you of the conventional norm and perhaps cultivate open-mindedness for what was to come. Take a listen at Assani’s site:

Take a look at these musicians (photo credit: Minaz Kurji Photography):


After some introductions, we proceeded with the speakers. Each speaker has 7 minutes, so in that sense, the style is somewhat similar to Pecha Kucha. But the speakers have complete freedom as to whether to use slides or not, and their use of slides varied.

Seven minutes is not very long, obviously. We can get an idea of what each speaker has to say, but it’s our responsibility to avoid superficiality and delve deeper on our own.

With that caveat, here are some moments I really enjoyed (photo credits:  Minaz Kurji Photography):

* Genevieve Ennis Hume talking about the plight of artisanal miners. “Artisanal” might imply a high-quality, boutique operation, but in fact men, women, and children work in appalling and dangerous conditions to satisfy our hunger for precious metals. I know about this with the so-called conflict minerals, but I had not really thought about it in respect to gold.

* Kwiaahwah Jones talking about the renaissance of Haida culture, after the near-eradication of a people and its culture. I really want to see what she is doing as curator at Bill Reid Gallery.

Kwiaahwah Jones, Curator of Bill Reid Gallery

Before Kwiaahwah spoke, a Haida dancer performed onstage. His actions would have been illegal under previous Canadian law until 1951. We cannot forget that Canadian laws and practice were specifically oriented, and stated as such, to destroy the cultures of aboriginal people in Canada.
Dancer performing an act previously outlawed by Canadian law

* Mohamed Assani talking about (and playing) his journey from Pakistan through western classical music studies to his return to the traditional sitar.


* Lance Barrett-Lennard talking about the use of drones to photograph killer whales, in order to assess their weight and health. (Many killer whales starve when salmon stocks are low, and you can chart their demise as they enter a “death spiral”, becoming skinnier and weaker.) Killer whales are easily recognized as distinct beings, once you start to look at them.

There were other speakers and no shortage of insights and interest. There were over 500 people attending. I am really appreciative for events like this for their social and intellectual nurturing of Vancouver.

Jewish Book Festival until November 27, and a report of the Opening Gala with Zeruya Shalev

Lots of interesting literary events happening at the Jewish Book Festival until November 27. These are held at the Jewish Community Centre at 41st and Oak.

Take a look:

The authors and books that are featured range from self-help to memoir to young adult and children’s works to literary fiction.

One that looks particularly interesting is the Tuesday night event featuring Steve Galloway talking about his book The Confabulist (which features a fictionalized Harry Houdini) with Sheryl MacKay of the CBC.

I know Galloway’s work from The Cellist of Sarajevo (and I actually first heard him read back in 2001), so this looks to be a very interesting discussion.

On Saturday night, I attended the Opening Gala featuring renowned Israeli author Zeruya Shalev, in conversation with Marsha Lederman, arts critic for The Globe and Mail. Shalev’s books have been translated into various languages, and she has recently won the prestigious Prix Femina literary award in France for her latest work The Remains of Love,

Shalev is a striking woman who looks rather younger than her 55 years, despite a life that has included suffering injuries from a terror attack in 2004 that left her unable to walk for some months (she appears to have fully recovered). Shalev says that she starts every one of her events with reading from Hebrew, even if it’s in a location where no audience member is likely to understand it, and that is what she did here, although some of the audience could undoubtedly understand her in this case. Lederman then followed by reading the same pages in English translation. As Lederman said, the poetic sound of the Hebrew was clear, even if one could not understand the words.

Shalev was suffering from flu or a cold, but she admirably rose to the occasion regardless. She was funny, warm, and witty as she described her relationship with her characters. Once her daughter caught her crying over her characters, who were suffering so much sadness, and her daughter was puzzled as to why she, as the author, could not solve their problems. But that does not seem to be how it works. Shalev uses a method where she does not plan in advance, but allows the characters to come to life and live their adventures. I have often wondered what percentage of authors fall on the very pre-planned side of the spectrum versus the “let’s see where they lead us” side. I recently heard, at Vancouver Writers Fest, the Dutch author Herman Koch (of The Dinner and other works) describe a similar process, although his characters occasionally lead him down a contradictory road, and then he has to discard some pages.

If you have a chance to take a workshop at the Jewish Book Festival, I recommend it. I have done so in the past, with Karen X. Tulchinsky,and it was excellent. Although this festival features Jewish authors (but not exclusively) and Jewish themes (again not exclusively), anyone is welcome to attend.

Review: The Particulars, November 16

Although I read about this play beforehand, I still did not have a clear sense of what it was about. But now I can tell you. I see it as an exploration of the way we use rituals, routines, and soothing behaviours to ease and numb the horrible pain of loss.

Nathan Barrett does a fine job with this one-man show, written by playwright Matt MacKenzie. Barrett’s style, playing the main character Gordon, is kinesthetic, which adds a lot of interest to the show. The words are spoken and at the same time physically enacted. Gordon is a man with some very particular behaviours, and a routine which brooks no interruption. Gordon gardens, and cooks, and attends church and a cinema club in the church basement. In fact, Gordon seemed rather like a stick-in-the-mud type before the big dance number, which is hilarious, and shows off Barrett’s dance talents admirably. Does Gordon have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), or is he just very particular? Does it matter?

Gordon goes through his routines day after day, only to be tormented every night by a scratching sound as he lies in bed. His attempts to use neighborhood cats to kill this sound fails. What is this sound? What does it represent? When Gordon finds out what causes the noise, is he seeing the truth or has he slipped over the edge of sanity?

The more I think about this play, the more subtexts I can see, and more interrelationships become apparent. The writing has a lot of subtleties.

The Particulars-Nathan Barrett2

The set, at Vancouver’s PAL Theatre, was minimal and kept the focus on Barrett.

This play has both comic and tragic elements. It cannot easily be categorized. I hope we have another chance to see it in Vancouver. Barrett did say he will be performing this play at his high school soon.

Review: Urinetown (Firehall, until November 29)

The Firehall’s production of Urinetown is fantastic–go see it! The music, the acting, the spirit, the venue–all combine to make a most enjoyable and thought-provoking evening.

The Firehall is an ideal venue for this show. The set, combined with the Firehall’s natural ambiance, captures the spirit of a New York Lower East Side tenement (pre-gentrification). Urinetown is perhaps set in a dystopian future, but we know the future can look disconcertingly like the past.

The musical’s author, Greg Kotis, was inspired by a low-budget trip to Europe where public toilets require payment, thereby impinging on his meagre food allowance. But public toilets for pay at prices people might not easily pay are a real phenomenon. The 3 pesos (25 cents or so) that a WC costs per use in the centre of Mexico City may seem trivial to a tourist, but it adds up for a low-income person  who is marginally employed if at all. The lack of toilets is a huge issue in India, with many sexual assaults and murders of women linked to the fact that they have no secure facilities to use. Not to mention the difficulties for homeless people right in the vicinity of the FIrehall itself.

“It’s a privilege to pee.” There’s a funny scene where our unreliable narrator, a police officer in charge of the enforcement of this pay-to-pee law, explains to the ingenue Miss Sally that the play will focus on one thing only for the sake of the audience, and not water usage in respect to hydraulics and irrigation. But back in our own very real society, we can look at the whole picture, and realize that we accept that in our world the most basic of human needs, food and shelter and sanitary facilities, are privileges and not rights. Not that Urinetown is an uncritical socialist screed–while entertaining us it also considers a world where no effort is made to shepherd or manage resources.

Andrew Wheeler is once again very good at a satirical portrayal of an officious white guy in a position of authority (he last played Stephen Harper in the satirical play Proud, also staged at the Firehall). Our narrator, played by David Adams as Officer Lockstock, is a likeable face of terror and oppression and, incidentally, information. Afterwards, I heard someone praising the comic timing of the choreography; indeed, the choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg has previously demonstrated her talent at combining comedy and dance.  I enjoyed all of the performances; this is a very talented lot of singers and dancers and actors with a great combination of talents.


Not from Urinetown, but I am inspired to share these links, at least tangentially related.

“We can live without Facebook, we can live without smartphones. But we cannot live without relieving ourselves.” Swapnil Chaturvedi (proudly known as “Poop Guy”) who cleans and provides toilets in India.

“2.5 billion people do not have access to a clean and safe toilet.” – World Toilet Day

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. – Anatole France

Fort Lauderdale Charges 90-Year-Old, Two Pastors for Feeding Homeless

The Particulars (one-man show featuring Nathan Barrett, written by Matt Mackenzie) at PAL Theatre, starting November 11

Tickets for The Particulars

Thanks to Railtown Cultural Eclective for much of this information.

I am curious about The Particulars. Here’s the description of the play as I received it now:

The Particulars is the story of Gordon. By day he forges systematically ahead, in control of every aspect of his life…but by night, the scratching which he has begun to hear in his walls is unravelling him, driving Gordon to the edge of cosmic desperation.

Help — I can’t stop itching after reading that! I am definitely intrigued. I’ve read there will be echoes and hints from Kafka and Saramago.

Both Barrett and Mackenzie are on an upward trajectory in terms of their theatrical careers. Barrett has been getting excellent reviews for this play all across Canada, and he has recently appeared in 4000 Miles with Nicola Cavendish (if you don’t know who she is, find out!). Mackenzie is a playwright who has been having great success and recognition from almost the very start of his career less than five years ago, And just as a matter of current interest given Liberia’s current predicament, Mackenzie has previously worked as “Liberian Dance Troupe Canadian Liaison”.

I am curious about Nathan Barrett too, as I have learned that he is a dedicated environmentalist as well as acclaimed actor. He has done long-distance cycling fundraising campaigns to fight against fracking. He is very concerned about climate change.

I have read about some previous productions of this play done with a male and female actor. So I’m not sure if the play has evolved or if this production is just different. Let’s see what happens! I have a strong suspicion that Mackenzie’s work in Liberia is a significant influence on this play.