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Today, many of the schools in Toronto reopen. This is another marker that life as it was before the pandemic is slowly returning. Appropriately, Check In From Away checks in with three actors who have played teachers on our stages. It’s an episode you won’t want to miss — full of the charm, humour and honesty that SnL are now famous for.
We also have the final instalment of Ghosts of the Royal Alex. It started with a song that inspired many collaborators: our writer, editors, voice artists, singers, directors, musicians, readers and listeners who in turn shaped where the story would take us. This is the power of storytelling, an art so ancient and compelling that it oozes out of every pore of humanity and has the power to unite us.
We share a new music video from The Rowdymen, a group that includes George Masswohl (aka Come From Away’s Mayor of Gander). The group’s new song, “Bell Island Pony” takes us to Newfoundland and tells the story of the horses that worked in the iron ore mines.
Read by David Mucci / Length: 23:25
The concluding chapter takes Herbie to St. Michael’s, a Catholic cemetery consecrated in 1855. It is located just southwest of Yonge and St. Clair. When it first opened, this was countryside, far from the city. As Toronto grew, streets were built around it. When Herbie is taken to it, it is invisible from the street, because it is ringed by homes, stores and apartment buildings. Here he discovers the true story of Yvette Lafayette. Just joining the story? Catch up here.
The final song is called “Shadows of Paris” and recalls a time when life for Yvette was carefree and easy; when she was the toast of Parisian bohemian cabarets; when love and art were all she needed to sustain her. It is sung by the luminous Steffi DiDomenicantonio, also known as Steffi D, one of the stars of Come From Away and the co-host of Check In From Away. Steffi sang the first song in the series. It is only fitting that she also sings the concluding one. Filmmaker Tristan Gough frames her in historic footage of early 20th-century Paris. A beautifully haunting song set against haunting images to end a haunting story.
Belinda Sutton runs a meetup group called Thumbs Up Theatre Toronto. For a decade now, Belinda has brought local theatre-lovers to Mirvish theatres by organizing tickets to almost all the Mirvish shows. Buying them at special group rates, Belinda is able to pass along the great discounts and provide a social outing for like-minded people. Her group has grown to thousands of members over the years.
When COVID-19 struck, this popular theatregoers club faced indefinite shutdown. Then, an idea took flight. Why not offer virtual events? Since April, the club has hosted dozens of free Zoom get-togethers featuring outstanding taped shows, mainly from Britain and the U.S. Sometimes a special guest – a director or actor – Zooms in for a pre-show discussion. This club helps keep theatre alive for its almost 8,000 members. In so doing, it brightens the lives of many homebound theatre lovers. Visit www.thumbsuptheatre.com for more information.
While Belinda’s club is for Torontonians, Colin Hoare’s focus are theatre-lovers from a little farther away in the GTA.
Who you are and what do you do?
CH: My name is Colin Hoare, and I have been involved in theatre (mostly community theatre) all my life. I did perform professionally opposite Fiona Reid at the Centaur Theatre in Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day, had two years at the Red Barn Theatre in summer stock, and did some shows with Gemini Dinner Theatre. Over the years, I have appeared in around fifty shows: in Oliver twice, once as Bill Sykes, and then as Fagin, in My Fair Lady as Henry Higgins, A Man for All Seasons (Cromwell), Frank in Educating Rita, and Thorvald in A Doll’s House to name a few. I have been retired since 2002, so have dedicated a lot of my time to organising groups. My wife, Anthea, and I first met when we were involved in a production of There’s a Girl in My Soup in Montreal.
How long have you been bringing groups to the Mirvish theatres?
CH: Twenty-five years. It all began in 1995 when Miss Saigon was playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre. The show was coming to the end of the run, so Mirvish offered blocks of tickets for midweek performances at discounted prices to different hospitals which could be used as fundraisers for said hospitals. My wife was charged with the selling of the tickets at her hospital, but the orders fell far short of the 200 tickets that she had received. I suggested that I talk to the president of my company about offering the surplus tickets to our staff. The request was approved by the CEO. As a result, all the tickets were sold.
The trouble was – the staff wanted to know if it could be done again! That was the start of it! The members of the Library Association of Toronto of which I was a member, plus the members of a couple of community theatre groups were added, and the group sales orders took off. From then on it was word of mouth.
Now I have a list in excess of 1,000 people, and names are added based on word of mouth recommendations. Since they live in all parts of the GTA, transportation to the theatres is not offered.
One thing that has been important to me has been the personal friendships that I have had with the group sales staff. Tickets were mostly collected personally from the group sales office by yours truly, so I got to know my agent, Helen, quite well. These days, it is Brandon as my principal agent, but everyone else has given me assistance – Denise, Nelia, Natasha and Tiffany. One of them was always willing to sit down with me when I was looking for a potential new date for an upcoming production. The one advantage that my group bookings had over most others was the fact that my people did not need to sit together, and I could fill in gaps of odd numbered spaces.
I might add that there are others on staff whom I consider friends – the box office staff at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and at the Princess of Wales.
What have you been up to during COVID-19? (personally and in business)
CH: To start with, working on refunds (now completed)! For example, with Hamilton, apart from one order for 120 tickets, the bulk of my individual orders were for 10 tickets or less – 49 of them were for two tickets each. There were also refunds for Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, and other shows – to say nothing of all the Ticketmaster and Stratford bookings that had to be done.
Other than that, life has been quiet. Self-isolation has been paramount (we are seniors, so are considered to be at a higher risk). We have two dogs that need exercising, so we each walk them daily. We do have family over, and we have a weekly Zoom meeting with those who do not live close by.
Have you been watching any streamed theatre shows? If so, what are they and what are your thoughts about this platform? Have you been connecting with your clients? What have you been hearing from them?
CH: Yes, I have watched streamed theatre shows. Most theatre-lovers in Ontario must be aware that the Stratford Festival live-streamed some 15 of their Shakespeare plays. Each one ran for two weeks, and would overlap the play that succeeded it for one week.
Andrew Lloyd Webber offered six free musicals, one per week, including Love Never Dies and By Jeeves. The late Heath Lamberts starred in the latter show.
The National Theatre had a wonderful slate of plays. Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea starring a terrific Helen McCrory, The Madness of George III from the Nottingham Playhouse, Treasure Island, and a brilliant production of Amadeus with Lucian Msamati playing Salieri. There were others as well.
The Chichester Festival Theatre also offered some free productions, but these were not as strong, although they did have a completely new musical version of Beauty and the Beast.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed at the Globe Theatre. Done traditionally, with background music played by musical instruments that were used in the Middle Ages.
I loved this platform, and my clients were regularly notified of all of them – there was quite a bit of positive feedback.
What are you missing most during the lockdown?
CH: Theatre, and being with friends who join me to be part of one of my groups.
Have you been reading or watching anything that you would like to recommend?
CH: The plays listed above.
By Otto Pierre
Favourite Local Spot
The Blake House
This restaurant has been a favourite of mine for some years. It’s set in a beautiful house that was built in 1891 – “one of the last standing heritage structures in Toronto mixing late 19th century Victorian and Second Empire architecture”. They offer delicious food, friendly service and a very relaxed atmosphere. Going to their patio is one of the places I always look forward to in the summer. It’s particularly ideal during pandemic times because it’s quite spacious.
The Book of Mormon
This musical is a satirical comedy that tells the story of two missionaries who travel to a small village in Uganda to preach the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Although some might say the show can be politically incorrect and crass, I found it very funny and entertaining – even a friend of mine who was reluctant to see it thoroughly enjoyed it.
Favourite Arts Organization
Upper Canada Choristers & Cantemos
I have been singing in this not-for-profit community choir and its Latin American choral ensemble for the past 20 years and feel very proud of the outreach we do in seniors’ homes, long-term care facilities and hospitals. Unfortunately, all this came to a sudden stop with the pandemic and the outbreaks associated with singing in groups. Thanks to the determination and love of our choir director, members have continued to practice and stay connected – some via Zoom and some in person (outdoors, with masks and properly distanced). We are currently rehearsing for our upcoming concert,“Inti Ukana: A Latin American Tapestry” which will now be live-streamed for free on October 2.
Back to school always brings a range of emotions for parents and students alike, but in this week’s edition of Check In From Away we’re channeling positive vibes only as SnL check in with actors who played teachers on stage!
Co-stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, director Lenny Abrahamson, and writer Emma Donoghue come together to revisit the 2015 Oscar-winning film adaptation of Donoghue’s Room — which Donoghue recently adapted for the stage and was to be part of the Off-Mirvish season. This event can be viewed on Bell Digital Cinema September 10–19, or you can tune in to TIFF’s Facebook and Twitter for the free livestream on September 16 at 7pm.
The Rowdymen’s First Single
By George Masswohl
The Rowdymen is a band committed to the music of Newfoundland and Labrador, and inspired by the spirit of her people. We are: percussionist Greg Hawco (bodhran/bouzouki/vocals), guitarist Gerry Finn (guitar/vocals) and myself (vocals).
Our first single, “Bell Island Pony,” was offered to us by Blair Harvey, a long-time friend and colleague of Greg and Gerry’s from the Newfoundland music scene. Blair is widely acknowledged to be one of Newfoundland’s finest songwriters. The second Gerry played Blair’s demo of the tune for us, we all just sat down and started working on our interpretation. Blair co-wrote the song with Steve Cochrane.
The song is about the horses that worked in the iron ore mines off of Bell Island, NL before machines took their place. They were born and spent their lives hauling ore beneath the ocean floor, many of them never to be exposed to the light of day. Life in the pit was hard. For these horses, it must have been the hardest of all.
We were extremely fortunate to be joined by Come From Away fiddler and CCMA nominee Linsey Beckett, and legendary bassist for Tom Cochrane, Jeff Jones. The track was produced in Cabbagetown, Toronto by The Rowdymen and mixed by Ken Friesen (Great Big Sea, The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo). The video was shot by us and put together by Emmy-nominated editor Paul Winestock.
So...here’s the tune. Enjoy – and stay tuned for more releases and live show dates in the coming weeks!