Saturday, March 17, 2018

Pandas - last chance

Apparently, there is actually a panda countdown clock, with less than 16 hours to go (since you clearly can't go in the middle of the night).  I have no idea how crowded it will be.  While it was fairly chilly two weeks ago (and should be somewhat warmer today), I'm glad we went then and avoided the hysteria.

As promised, here are some photos we took on the last trip.


The cubs

So we saw them sleeping and eating.  Which is pretty much all pandas do, but they are cute... 

The Tundra Trek was definitely more interesting, as the animals were more in their native element, so to speak.

Polar bears

Snowy owl

Arctic wolves

I hadn't remembered that the zoo also has penguins, though these are actually African penguins.

As I mentioned before, the Canadian Domain was quite a bust and not worth the walk.  But we were lucky enough to see Kiran, the greater one-horned rhino calf.

And that was basically the end of our trip to the zoo.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pandas - running out of time

I meant to actually put up photos of the visit, but they are stored away where I can't access them right now.  So this will just be a quick note that this is the last weekend that the pandas (and especially the 2 panda cubs) are on view at the Toronto Zoo.  The adult pandas were eating bamboo, and the cubs were sleeping, and that is probably what you would see if you visit.  Anyway, it's best to go fairly early and go to the panda pavilion first.  It might be a bit warmer this weekend, but it's still chilly so bundle up.  We also liked the Tundra Trek, since the polar bears and arctic wolves were in their element.  The excursion to the Canadian animals was not worth it -- the grizzly bear display is completely closed, and we didn't even see the moose.  My guess is this will be our last visit for quite a while, and we are more likely to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo on our next Chicago trip.  I'll see about getting the photos up soon.

I also am planning a post on books turned to movies, but that will have to wait.  However, I should mention that there are only two more days to catch Brown Girl Begins (based on Nalo Hopkinson's novel, Brown Girl in the Ring).  It's at the movie theatre at Dundas and Yonge.  Some details here: BGB.  As I said, more later.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wiped Out from the Weekend

I am getting so far behind in these posts.  At some point, I'll probably just wipe the slate clean and start fresh.  Anyway, I did a bit too much running around on the weekend, which I'll elaborate on in a moment.  I had noticed my cough had come back towards the end of the day Monday.  As it happened I basically had to stay out late to see SFYS (totally worth it to see my parody of Albee's The Goat go up).  Tuesday morning I was in really bad shape, and my director suggested I go home (though I would have just had to work from home since I wasn't getting out of any work obligations...).  I actually skipped going to the gym and got some extra sleep, which helped.  Today, I think the cold portion has more or less passed, but I have a really hacking cough, which I am hoping to get over by spring break!

To back up to the weekend, I got the groceries out of the way fairly early (well, except for tofu, which they were out of).  I had planned to take my son to see Black Panther, and the earliest showing was at Beach Cinema, so we set out.  As it turned out, there was some major water problem.  There was no running water in the theatre, so they had to close down for the whole weekend.  I'm sure the owners were just having kittens, giving up such a profitable weekend.  That didn't help us any, and we went back home, stopping off at the library on the way back.  On the positive side, I was able to take my daughter swimming at Matty Eckler, and it was more productive than usual.  I also bought her some new sneakers in the mall on the way back, though it looks like she might need to grow into them.

After some indecisiveness, my daughter decided she wanted to go to zoo after all on Sunday.  We had to hustle to get the ZipCar, since I wanted an early start.  The drive over was quite uncongested, and we made good time.  We got there about 9:45.  I mostly wanted to make sure they saw the pandas one more time, and in particular the panda babies.  We got a pretty good look at them before it got too crowded.  I'm going to put off the rest of the zoo story (and the accompanying photos) to my next post.  The drive back was in heavier traffic, but actually it moved along pretty well until I got onto the Don Valley South.  Then it was quite slow until maybe Lawrence.  I was just a bit stressed, since the car was due at 1, and the clock was ticking.  I ended up dropping it off with a couple of minutes to spare.  I then headed downtown to drop off some stuff at work and to meet two actors that want to be in the Fringe show.  The meeting went well.  On the way back home, I did stop off at the gym and got in a workout.  So it was a pretty full weekend, all things considered!  Probably best if I sign off now and get more rest.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

11th Canadian Challenge - 15th review - The Amazing Absorbing Boy

A while back, I had thought I would write a post about the literature of immigration.  That's still a good idea, but probably more work than I really want to take on, particularly now that I have finally started getting more serious about my own creative writing.  If I ever do tackle it, then Rabindranath Maharaj's The Amazing Absorbing Boy will definitely need to be mentioned.  It is a good, though not great, novel about a young immigrant coming to Toronto from Trinidad.  I'd say it did exceed my expectations a bit, since it was better than Maharaj's earlier novel Homer in Flight. That said, Maharaj still doesn't really have a solid handle on plotting or pacing novels, and his novels sort of peter out rather than conclude with a satisfactory ending.

In terms of some basic comparisons between the two, Samuel, the protagonist of The Amazing Absorbing Boy, is much younger than Homer when he first sets foot in Canada.  He doesn't actually apply for any sort of landed immigrant papers.  However, his father is in Canada, apparently legally.  Samuel first just overstays his tourist visa, but then his situation is finally straightened out, after his uncle comes up to Canada to see how things are going and forces Samuel's father to begin the process to sponsor Samuel legally.

To say that the relationship between Samuel and his father is not healthy is an understatement.  His father clearly doesn't want anything to do with him, and only takes him in, unwillingly, after Samuel's mother dies.  Samuel's father does nothing to try to show Samuel around the city and show him the ropes (quite a contrast from Homer who had a fair bit of good advice from his relatives).  He lets Samuel fend for himself and is negative and sarcastic when Samuel somewhat amazingly finds work as a gas station attendant (being paid under the counter naturally).

While Samuel longs for his father's approval or even just basic recognition from him, he ends up being fairly resourceful. After a few missteps, he learns how to use the transit system.  Indeed, he starts exploring the city on his days off, particularly before he starts taking classes at a community college of some sort.  He appears to be working towards the equivalent of a GED, so that he can enroll in university.  All of this hinges upon his getting permanent residency of course, as he certainly cannot afford out-of-state tuition, even with his uncle helping out.  Samuel even learns about the GO trains and GO buses.  When his uncle visits, he takes him on a trip from Oshawa to Burlington, which is certainly further than most tourists would ever think to go.


There are a few quirky things about the novel.  Basically, two years pass in the novel, but Maharaj mostly only talks about the weather when it is winter, which I suppose is something that would really stand out to Samuel.  Also, Samuel encounters a large number of people that he interacts with for a while, and then they drift apart for one reason or another: a language school was a sham and the students have gotten in trouble, Samuel stops going to a particular coffee shop (or even this poetry reading series!), Samuel stops working at a store and so forth.  It's a little unsatisfying to have so many dropped threads.  In particular, I was wondering whether there would be any resolution to the near-dating that Samuel and Carmen (the sister of one of his classmates) engage in.  Instead, the novel shifts back in time to focus on Samuel's growing friendship with a boy in his hometown.  This boy, Loykie, had a terrible skin condition and more or less lived in a swamp with his mother.  Many of the townspeople had never even seen him; he was almost a myth.  Samuel and Loykie bonded over their love of comic book heroes, and together they dreamed up a new hero, The Amazing Absorbing Boy, who takes on the properties of everything he touches (basically like Rogue from the X-Men, but this applies even to inanimate objects like wood or water).  It's a fairly obvious metaphor that new immigrants, such as Samuel, rapidly absorb everything around them, and it isn't too long before they change to better fit their environment.  Indeed, eventually they blend in and can even show others around, as Samuel does with his uncle.  The novel ends with Samuel undergoing an exam to gain his permanent residency, which may indeed be no easy matter to gain, since his father has actually finally thrown in the towel on Canada and has returned to Trinidad.  I suppose until his future is settled, Samuel can't get too serious about Carmen.

Samuel definitely had some new takes on Toronto.  He lived in Regent Park, and the gentrification of the area and displacement of existing residents was a running thread through the second part of the novel.  But Samuel was fascinated by the way different cultures lived together.  He arrived at a time when Toronto truly had become more of a mosaic (compared to Homer who was arriving in a substantially whiter city).  Winters aside, he was pretty enthusiastic about the city and wanted to stay, even after his father left.  (It's a bit of a cliche, but Toronto was probably the second most important character in the book after Samuel.)  He clearly felt fairly confident that he could succeed where Canada had beaten his father, and indeed he seems to have more drive and was more open to new experiences and frankly was nicer to other people, all of which would generally contribute to his success.

Update to the Update

I think I mentioned that I decided not to bother with Open Open Open now that Sing-for-your-Supper was back up and running.  So I decided I would focus on trying to get a piece written for that, but the deadline was the 27th.  Work has been really heavy these past couple of weeks, and I more or less worked through the night yesterday.  On top of that, I was working pretty furiously on the Final Exam.  Mostly the script but also all the pieces that I need to pull together to get it produced, and that is still uppermost in my mind.  I have made some progress on that, making headway on getting another actor involved.  I also went to a Production 101 session hosted by the Fringe last night, which kind of points out just how much I still have to do, though I was pretty much in the middle of the pack, which was somewhat comforting.  I didn't really recognize anyone in the room, as most of the artists I know didn't make it into the lottery.  My situation is definitely different from the others though, as mine is a site-specific piece, so my questions are more specific and I'll just email them to the Fringe.

To sort of add to my mental confusion (of last night), I can definitely see the start and middle of the piece, but I just couldn't settle on the ending.  Do I want a funny or ironic or tragic end to this piece?  I think the answer would be just to sit down and write it and see what develops, but I didn't have time.  Perhaps if I had the ending (or some ending) in mind, I could have forced myself to get moving, but I bailed.  I'll just aim for next month, and hope that the parody piece I submitted way back in Dec. gets taken (I resubmitted it, since they have been on hiatus and probably misplaced everything from before).

What I just barely managed to do is to turn my short play Double Sabbatical into a short story for the Toronto Star contest.  I know it won't win, as it is far too dialogue-heavy, but I just wanted to feel I had accomplished something out of all those deadlines I had.  The deadline is today in fact, and I'll have to drop it off in person on the way to work.  A couple of years ago, I managed to drop it off after work on the day before the contest ended.  So cutting it close is nothing new to me.  Like many people, particularly academics, I pretty much work to deadlines and not much else.

Today, I have a bunch of library books to deal with, and I'd like to finish up two book reviews for the blog, but I suppose if they don't get posted it's not the end of the world.  After all this, I probably need to do nothing but focus on Final Exam, which is basically uppermost in my mind (aside from work periodically...).

Monday, February 26, 2018

Theatre Updates

So much theatre, and so little time to write about it.  Working backwards from this weekend, No Foreigners was quite interesting, though it was basically a high-tech puppet show.  It was mostly about a Chinese-Canadian who gets turned away at a Chinese mall and wants to prove he isn't a foreigner, even though he doesn't speak any Chinese dialect.  He eventually meets up with a sifu, studies Chinese through pirated Chinese DVDs, eats nothing but Chinese food at the food court.  After three years, he is Chinese enough to tackle karaoke (and some ninjas).  There is another thread about a man talking to the ghost of his grandfather at the mall.  That one was a little less satisfying.  The audience was probably 60% Asian, and they really got into it, which kept the energy in the room pretty high.  I overheard two young women talking about being involved with the theatre, and I almost gave them a business card, but felt somewhat cowed by their mother.  I suppose it is pretty unlikely I will put on Corporate Codes of Conduct anytime soon, and as for the one that was into technology, I try to put on plays as simply as possible, i.e. with no projections.  However, I did drop a line to the actor in the show itself, as she might be able to play a teenager in Final Exam, if she isn't too busy during Fringe (and will work for Fringe rates!).

Jerusalem.  In some ways, this is a deeply, deeply cynical play.  Everyone in the village is basically a closet drug user, which is why Rooster Byron is so outraged that they are trying to turf him now, ostensibly because he is selling drugs and booze to teenagers (when he remembers selling it to their parents).  Rooster is such a low-life, but when played by someone with real charisma, he's pretty compelling.  I'm glad I went to see it, despite the three hour running time.  If nothing else, the set is amazing.  That said, there are some parts of the play I don't care for, particularly when he tells his son that his blood is so valuable.  I'm sorry, but even if he had the most valuable blood in the world, it would be completely unusable, given all the drugs and booze he pours into his system.  (Plasma is a bit more forgiving and can be stripped of impurities, which is why winos used to give so much of it, but blood is not.)  Also, there is this time when he appeared in court for locking someone in a shed for a week, nearly killing them.  I know that the UK courts (and Canadian ones) are far too lenient for crimes against property, but an attack on an official that didn't actually land Rooster in jail?  It seems unlikely.  Still, a unique experience.  It has been extended through March 17 if interested.

I'll have to circle back to write more about The Humans.  So much going on in that one.  I believe it has closed, so you'll just have to travel to see it if you didn't catch it here.

I actually don't have a lot planned right now for this weekend.  There is a chance I'll go see Fierce by George F. Walker at Red Sandcastle, though I have to say the reviews I have read make it seem even less plausible than The Catch!  I'm just not sure I can deal with that right now.  On the other hand, Walker really knows how to ramp up the tension between characters, and I could use a bit more of that for the last section of Final Exam.  Hmmm.  But I also promised my son to take him to Black Panther, and I may go catch Brown Girl in the Ring (or not).

I do have a Fringe meeting this Tues., so that's kind of exciting.  In other news, I believe the script changes have convinced one actor to come on board, though he hasn't signed or anything.  I am still waiting to hear back from one other actor, who would play the second teacher.  I have two of the students lined up, and I just reached out to a potential third one.  I will be going to SFYS next Monday, and I may be able to find actors or even a director, so I really have to make it.  I decided that since SFYS is back up and running, I would skip Open Open Open, and just write my K-Pop piece for SFYS.  However, I have to hop to it, as I only have another day to finish that!  So tonight, no more fooling around. With that, I'm off.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thumbs Down for Soulpepper

It is unfortunate I have to write this post, but it is always instructive to see how organizations do during a crisis and frankly Soulpepper isn't inspiring me.  To give a bit of background, Soulpepper was supposed to have Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval this spring.  They say it was a return engagement, though I don't know how long ago it went up (probably before 2014).  In any case, they have decided to scrap this performance and replace it with La Bête by David Hirson.  I can't really tell if this is because a couple of actors are still boycotting Soulpepper or because Albert Schultz directed the original run and they don't want to validate anything he touched in the past.

However, I am not interested in La Bête.  Really, I was only strongly interested in Albee's A Fine Balance and A Chorus of Disapproval this season.  I had to really stretch to find four shows I wanted to see.  Had I known they were going to make the switch, I would not have subscribed in the first place.  What was particularly surprising is that all tickets for A Chorus of Disapproval have been rebooked for La Bête (as if theatre was an interchangeable commodity, and who would care what particular play they were seeing?). Anyway, there is a note that they are happy to accommodate subscribers, but what they don't say is that when you call the Box Office will only allow you to change to a different show.  They will not refund the ticket price for A Chorus of Disapproval.  I said I wasn't interested in any other show, and I wanted a refund.  They said a manager would get back in touch, but no one has to date.

I understand times are tight, and they just lost a big government grant, but this is no way to behave.  There is a very ugly term for switching a product without consent and then refusing to provide refunds: consumer fraud.  I can confidently state that I am so annoyed by these actions that it will be at least two to three seasons before I even consider subscribing again, if I even do at all, especially if they scrub Ayckbourne from their short list of playwrights that they program.  I am probably done with Soulpepper after this, aside from maybe a rush ticket here and there.  The real question will be how many others feel the same way.