Edmonton’s Iron Foot Place (AKA “Ice District”)

Okay, peeps, chill!

That Katz guy just renamed a couple of buildings in Downtown Edmonton (as he has every right to do), he didn’t rename Downtown. This is like when Edmonton Centre (a stupid name) and Eaton’s Centre (a stupid name after Eaton’s went belly up) got a snappy new pedway connecting them and some suit said “let’s call the two buildings Edmonton City Centre!”  Nobody calls it that.  Some call it “City Centre Mall” and some call it just “City Centre”.  Or like when the Coliseum got renamed “Skyreach Place” or “Rexall Place” or . . . .  No one is at all confused if you say “meet me at the Coliseum.”  And after 37 years of name changes to the arena, that LRT station that serves the place is still called “Coliseum”.

Out of convenience we’ve been calling a vague area around the under-construction arena “the arena district” for a little while. I expect when it’s all done and the “Ice District” signs go up, we’ll all call it whatever seems convenient. I imagine people will say,

“Let’s go Downtown to the arena.”
“Where should we meet?”
“At the Cineplex” or “In the Winter Garden by the Janvier mosaic” or at the front door of Stantec” or “with all the other White people in that video”.

Some time ago the City put up “Arts District” signs around Churchill Square. Has anyone EVER said “let’s meet in the Arts District Friday night!” Of course not! It’s a silly, artificial thing and it’s properly ignored.  People meet in Churchill Square or at City Hall, or the Library or at City Centre Mall.

I really don’t find this little corporate naming-rights moment of any great concern. The fact that the promo video is all “White People only unless you’re the DJ”, however, is troublesome. It would be nice if our collective ‪#‎yegSpleen‬ were being vented over that bit of corporate propaganda rather than over the naming-yawn that is “Ice District.”

Personally, I’m gonna call that bit of Downtown Edmonton with that hockey rink beside the new Alex Janvier mosaic “Iron Foot Place”, “Tsątsąke k’e” because it was Treaty Six land before the NHL and before Katz and it still is Treaty Six Land and “Iron Foot Place” is a damn better name than “The Arena District” or the articleless “Ice District.

I hope Mayor Iveson and Edmonton City Council can come up with a way to make the official City neighbourhood placename of that bit of Downtown “Iron Foot Place”, whatever the corporate brand on the buildings.  It would be an easy gesture toward Reconciliation and a good description of a place devoted to strapping steel blades to our feet.  But even if it’s never the official name . . .

Let’s meet at Iron Foot Place.

Who’s with me on this?

Advertisements

Pretend that Bike is a Backhoe, Edmonton!

Recently the Alberta Motor Association put out a handsome little video about how to drive in traffic circles.  This video explains in detail three fundamental principles and some bonus advice:

Don’t Change Lanes
Yield to the Vehicle on your Left
Yield to Pedestrians
and, the bonus:
Ideally, Don’t Go More than One Exit in the Right Lane

I’m not going to make a snappy video but I’d like to make another simple suggestion of how we all can work together to make Edmonton’s roads safer.

Have you ever noticed that if you find yourself behind a slow moving vehicle like a backhoe while driving along Edmonton’s streets, you do something funny?  You slow down, too.  You may curse a little, but you slow down.  You don’t try to squeeze by the slow moving vehicle in the same lane, even if that vehicle is doing its best to hug the curb.  What you actually do, not matter how much you curse, is you wait until it is safe to signal, pull out into the left lane, and pass the slow moving vehicle, secure in the knowledge that the slow moving vehicle will be right behind you at the next red light. In short, you give the slow moving vehicle the lane.

This all seems like common sense, right?

Wrong.

It all breaks down (except for the cursing) if that slow moving vehicle is a bicycle.  Most automobile drivers simply zip past cyclists, apparently assuming that it is the cyclists’ responsibility to ride in the gutter and keep their elbows in.  A rare few drivers will make a token effort to move to the left a foot or two, sometimes even letting their left wheels slip over the centre line.  The rarest of the rare behave as though the bicycle is a backhoe, an actual vehicle on the road with an operator trying to get to a destination in a safe and timely manner given the physical limitations of that vehicle.  Those rarest of the rare drivers slow down and wait to pass the bicycle when it is safe to do so properly, as though they were passing a backhoe.

Now I can hear a bunch of you grumpily yelling “Yeah, but, bike riders [insert favourite complaint about feral cyclists].”  Didn’t your mother ever teach you that Two Wrongs don’t Make a Right? Just because a year and a half ago some yahoo zipped past you between lanes of traffic stopped at the light at the bottom of Scona Road and then ran the red light doesn’t mean the guy in front of you today doesn’t have a right to be on the road.  If a BMW cut you off on the Yellowhead three years ago are you going to cut off every BMW you see on the road for the rest of your life?  Of course not.  I don’t want to hear any of your “Yeah, but, bike riders” cop outs.  We all encounter bad driving and we all sometimes have driven badly.  Bad drivers we’ve encountered are never excuses to drive badly ourselves.  Be quiet.

Most cyclist, of course, habitually ride in the gutter with their elbows in, bracing for impact because the vast majority of automobile drivers behave in an intimidating manner, shouting “Get Outta Da Way!” with their actions when not doing so with their voices.  Some few cyclists hold their lane.  Kudos to them.  A few others seem to want it both ways, holding their lanes somewhat while traffic is moving, but zipping past stopped traffic, sometimes weaving through it, to get to the front of the line at traffic lights.  To those cyclists who weave through traffic, consider: it is an exceptionally rare motorcyclist who even imagines doing the same thing, despite the vehicles’ similar size and manoeuvrability.

And, drivers, if the bike you passed properly and safely a block or two ago zips past you on the right at the next traffic light, don’t give up on doing the right thing. When the light turns green and you catch up to the cyclist again, as you will: yield the lane until it is safe to pass properly and safely.  Remember again your mother’s words about Wrongs and Rights.

As an automobile driver who is on the streets of Edmonton every day, I call on other drivers to simply give all vehicles including bicycles their lane, even when a cyclist is hugging the curb.

Take a breath, pretend the bicycle is a backhoe and it’ll be easy.

Give them the lane, for Safety’s sake.

Always.

Summer Republic III

This past Thursday evening (July 9, 2015) I went to a show-opening reception at a small North-Side gallery in Edmonton.  The work, by a collective of artists, is a mixed bag of styles, subject matter, and media, but bright, summery tones of orange stand out around the four walls.

I bumped into (name dropping alert) David Janzen, one of Edmonton’s premier landscape painters, and his partner Sue.  Dave and I seem to get talking when we bump into each other, sometimes about art, sometimes about cutting grass.

I pointed to a large work that occupied one corner of the gallery, a deceptively simple looking monochrome wood-cut print in black hung beside the actual block from with it was printed.  A quirky aspect of the print is that rather than being rolled in a press, this piece was printed, once on paper and once on cloth, by driving a steam roller over the thing.  The result is an extremely limited edition print titled “Roadwork” by Aaron Harvey.

“I like that,” I said.  “It’s got a sort of Mexican Day of the Dead vibe going.”

Dave said “Oh yeah . . . (?)”

“Yeah.  The two figures are sort of skeletal and those look like sombreros on their heads.  And down at the bottom is the underworld, Xibalba, the Maya Land of the Dead.  And the two figures are the Hero Twins, Hunapu and Xbalanque, or maybe they’re One and Seven Death, the highest of the Lords of Xibalba. . . . .”

“What about those twisted amoeba-like things at the top?”

“Those are clouds and they’re reflected in the similar shapes at the bottom, just as the underworld must reflect the upper. And the crosses in the buildings reference the remarkable syncretism of Mexican ‘Catholicism’ . . . .”

Dave had another chip.  I nibbled baklava, hoping the nuts wouldn’t kill me.

“I like this one, too,” I said, pointing at Lora Pallister’s “Golden King of the Jungle.”

“What is it?” asked Sue. “A rabbit?”

“No, it’s a gorilla dressed sorta like Carmen Miranda.  Or a lion.”

“And that’s a big joint in his mouth,” said Dave.

“Or a piece of red licorice,” I suggested.

Dale Badger’s three line-drawings after Crucifixions by Dürer, particularly “Angels Collecting Blood after Dürer”, are brilliant.  Simply brilliant.

I spent a little time nibbling the snackies and then (name dropping alert) Rona Fraser (you may remember her as one of Avenue Magazines “Top 40 under 40” from a year or two ago) asked me if I knew of a good place to get beef ribs to barbecue (I don’t) which took us to the subject of black pudding and then Rona asked “Do you know a good place to get haggis?”

Well, obviously, I told her the best place in Edmonton for both black pudding and haggis (and meat pies) is (name dropping alert) Old Country Meats in Allendale across 106 Street from the Allendale School.

 

I suppose you’re wondering where this magical North Side gallery is, a place full of wicked good art, a place you can rub shoulders with top artists and hobnob with Top 40 under 40ers and talk with them about food and art and the Popol Vuh.  I suppose you’re wondering.

Wonder no more.

(name dropping alert)

This gallery is at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts.  If you are in Edmonton you should know about The Nina, you should go to the Nina, and you should learn what it is and what it isn’t.

The Nina is a mentoring collective.  It is not a sheltered workshop.  The Nina is a studio for artists working with barriers, not “art therapy” for the “handicapped”.  The art on display in the show I described above, Summer Republic III, has been created by Artists in a studio, not by disabled people in segregation.  They have been mentored by some of the top artists in Edmonton such as (name dropping alert) Jill Stanton, Caroline Gingrich, Brenda Kim Christiansen, David Janzen, and Artistic Director Paul Freeman.  The Nina Collective is made up of these and more mentoring Lead Artists as well as Apprentice Artists who are being themselves mentored in the art business (writing grant applications, etc.), volunteers, and the almost two hundred Artists with abilities, not disabilities, who are being mentored in art making.

The works in Summer Republic III have been chosen through a jurying process and represent the best of what the Artists of the Collective have produced over the last year.

The work is rich, it is evocative, it should be seen, it is Art.

 

Summer Republic III is on display at the Stollery Gallery at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, 9225 118 Ave, until August 14, 2015.

Go see it.

And drop into the busiest studios in the City while you’re there.

 

 

“As You Like It” at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival

I keep trying to find bad things to say about the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, but . . .

I went to As You Like It Tuesday night (July 7), a week after seeing Freewill’s Coriolanus.  The austere Roman arcade of that story is transformed into a vine-covered bower.  Again the cast uses every bit of the multi-level set and also the aisles and hillsides and the flat spaces to the left and right back stage.  The entire space under the tent has been transformed into the Forest of Arden and the very full house seems completely welcome and at home in this Arcadia.  All positive.

The quasi-Edwardian costumes by Hannah Matiachuk are lovely. I got a golden Enchanted April feeling.

When the music began for Amiens’ (Nicolas Donald Rose) opening song, it struck me as a little Alan Parson’s Project, and I thought, “Finally!  I can criticise!” But the prog-rock vibe disappeared sooner than I’d thought it.  Nice job, Sound Designer Matthew Skopyk!  I later had a similar pause over the whistling tune in the second half, but immediately was caught up in the joyful celebration — on stage and in the audience — that culminated in the glorious curtain call/dance party that closed the show.  This burst of joy perhaps surpassed last year’s rousing rendition of “It’s Now or Never” by Sheldon Elter and the cast at the end of The Taming of the Shrew.

I wondered whether Charles’ (Jesse Gervais) Cockney accent might slide into Dick van Dyke’s mid-Atlantic Burt from Mary Poppins.  Nope.  It held steady and together with Kemble and Phebe’s (Nancy McAlear in a double role) brogue from somewhere in the northern half of the Irish sea, helped to draw the lines between the classes.  This distinction is too often made in productions of Shakespeare by making the lower classes little more than cartoon Disney bumpkins, like the button people after the horse race in Mary Poppins.  Freewill pulled it out of the hat again.

Gervais and Farren Timoteo are hilariously physical, slapstick, and rude as the wrestler Charles and his coach Hugh (a part not in Shakespeare’s text).  And John Ullyat steals his few scenes as a Clouseau-like only slightly repressed gay Frenchman.  Ullyat is somehow at once over-the-top and magically restrained as Le Beau.  It is perhaps a disappointment that Ullyat was not a part of the finale, as far as I could tell.

Mary Hulbert’s Rosalind is tremendous and Belinda Cornish’s Celia is the perfect foil/companion/friendly gadfly.  Ashley Wright made Jaques, a difficult role, into something thought provoking, quietly joyful, as well as the melancholy that is his nature.  And Ryan Parker as Touchstone made something reachable out of a character potentially very alien to a modern audience.

I did find one truly negative criticism of Freewill’s As You Like It, but I had to dig deep.  It is not that Touchstone sometimes drops his cane while juggling it — the recovery is always smooth — or that Cornish and Hulbert had an hilarious Harvey Corman-Tim Conway moment of mutual corpsing — it just felt like it needed to be there.  Such fumbles happen in live theatre — I seem to remember the wonderfully steady Wally McSween saving the plot by fudging a misthrown curling rock with his foot in the Citadel’s production of The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon back in 1980.

No. The problem I have I’ll leave at the door of Director Marianne Copithorne.  In this production, with such nice use of accents, Jaques’ “Thereby hangs a tale” speech is unfortunately delivered with North American Theatrical English pronunciation and virtually all of the dense, ribald, earthy humour is lost.

. . . And then he drew a dial from his poke,
And, looking on it with lack-lustre eye,
Says very wisely, ‘It is ten o’clock:
Thus we may see,’ quoth he, ‘how the world wags:
‘Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
And after one hour more ’twill be eleven;
And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale.’

In Shakespeare’s day, and in available English dialects today, every “hour” of this passage is an “whore”, each “rot” is a “rut” and the “ripes” are “rapes”.  And thereby hangs at least a piece of a tale.

But Hulbert’s delivery of Rosalind’s “I set him every day to woo me” speech revealed a gender reversed parallel between Rosalind/Orlando and Hamlet/Ophelia I’d never imagined before, Orlando sent to a monastery down the road from Ophelia’s nunnery.  That discovery probably more than makes up for the loss of a little ribald humour.

No matter how desperately I try to find fault, the Freewill Players continue to present joyous, moving, and truly impressive Shakespeare the way it should be performed:  in the open air, with grass, and trees, and squirrels, in the Forest of Arden where fantasy and reality meet.

Freewill’s As You Like It continues in repertory with Coriolanus until July 19, 2015, in the Forest of Arden (the Heritage Amphitheatre in Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park).

Go and feel the joy!

“Coriolanus” by the Freewill Players

Take him up.
Help, three o’th’chiefest soldiers. I’ll be one.
Beat thou the drum that it speak mournfully;
Trail you steel pikes. Though in this city he
Hath widow’d and unchilded many a one,
Which to this hour bewail the injury,
Yet he shall have a noble memory.
Assist.

This won’t be a typical review. Mark Morris in the Edmonton Journal has already done a fine and balanced review of Freewill Players’ Coriolanus.

For the past few years, even with Shakespeare’s irredeemable script of Taming of the Shrew, I have been consistently impressed by the Freewill productions when I’ve not been simply blown away. Despite that record, I had low expectations of their Coriolanus. Ralph Feines’ film remains burned into my memory as a tough act to follow. I knew Freewill would need to cut for time and personnel. And Coriolanus is a plot that can be hard to follow, even for those familar with Roman Republican history. Coriolanus, the character, is alternately praised and vilified by his own people, the Romans, and by his enemies, the Volsci. Banished by Rome he joins the Volsci to have revenge on Rome, only to betray Volscian ambition to clutch at an impossible peace.

I expected a game try and limited success from Freewill’s roughly two hour time limit and a little more than dozen actors doing repertory with As You Like It.

You blew me away again, Freewill!

And the standing ovation last night, despite a few fumbled lines, was more than deserved.

A Word About the Setting

For those who don’t know Edmonton and the setting of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, a description:

The centre of Edmonton, a metropolis of over a million people, is a park. Don’t imagine New York’s Central Park. Edmonton’s central park is over twenty times the size of New York’s. Imagine wilderness for kilometres. Imagine deer, moose, or even a bear calmly wandering past Downtown. Imagine walking out of wilderness onto a golf course. Then an Arcadian landscape of ponds, fountains, cropped meadows, more wilderness, bike paths, foot paths, Chinese gardens, food forests, amphitheatres, Fur Trade Era palisaded forts, playgrounds, a small Gnome in his home, swimming pools, baseball fields . . . all with a river running through it, all a short walk from the homes and workplaces of a bustling metropolis.

Now imagine sitting in a comfy chair under a giant white circus tent with no walls. Squirrels dart past your feet. Birds are singing. People are smiling and laughing. You look past the stage and see trees, meadows, ponds and fountains. In the distance the wooded river bank rises to meet the sunset sky. This evening smoke from distant northern forest fires enhances the atmospheric perspective, transforming the view into the distant background vista of a painting by Poussin. A few days ago that bear I mentioned ambled nearby, stirring curiosity rather than worry.

This Arcadian landscape is what you pass through on the way to see Shakespeare. The experience is more akin to approaching a provincial performance of the Kings Men in 1598 than it is to a potentially stuffy night at the Theatre in the 21st Century.

And precisely this feeling of being at a provincial performance is one thing that blew me away about Freewill’s Coriolanus: it felt like a carefully abbreviated staging, a site-specific version, such as many of Shakespeare’s plays went through in the provinces and the Plague Years. There was an authenticity to the cutting, and in one particular case, a brilliant artistry in the drastic shortening of a speech.

The Review-like bits

The Plebs are suitably loud and chaotic, Belinda Cornish’s Volumnia is deliciously Patrician and incestuous, John Ullyat’s Coriolanus is stoic in battle and painfully and creepily devoted to his mother, and Robert Benz is steady as Menenius. The conniving Tribunes played by Farren Timoteo and Ryan Parker are like despicable peas in a pod, as they should be. Performances are across the board good or great. Sound design is brilliant, costumes are comfortably mid-century fascist with a touch of street gang, and the set is a marvellously minimalist two-story arcade that is more than fully utilized by the cast..

And Ullyat absolutely nailed Coriolanus’ banishment speech “There is a world elsewhere!” at the end of Act III where Freewill nicely places the intermission.

What shone for me as much as anything, but in a subtle way, was the cutting of the text. Much of the cutting was from speeches, not of speeches or scenes. Speeches are tightened for time, certainly with a sacrifice of beauty and perhaps of sense at times, but in at least one case, that of the final speech of Aufidius, the final words of the play, the cut gives a profound and startlingly modern twist to the meaning of the play.

Spoiler Alert!

The epigraph above is Aufidius’ last speech as Shakespeare had the play end. With the death of Coriolanus, Aufidius seems to indicate, the war is ended, as though it all was driven by Coriolanus and his narcissistic treason.

Here’s how Freewill ends the play (stage directions as I imagine them):

Auf.
Take him up.
[The Volscian Soldiers don’t move.]
Assist!
[Exeunt Volscian Soldiers]
[Aufidius slumps, aware that treason is now his twice over, as it was for Coriolanus, but Coriolanus has saved both cities, while Aufidius has betrayed them both for nothing]
[Exit]

Coriolanus is playing at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park until July 18, 2015.

Go see it.

image