Saturday, November 20, 2010


Oh, the trouble with wanting to write about a festival while it's happening is that there's a great bloody festival going on, distracting you from writing about it by being fantastic and unmissable!

Friday night I hit the Mayfair Theatre to see Ivan Coyote's marvellous show "You Are Here," featuring Ivan (seriously, Canadian National Treasure) telling stories about her home in the Yukon, accompanied by songwriter and musician Rae Spoon, and with the screen behind them being used for projections of still photos and Super 8 footage. If you haven't heard Ivan tell, or read, find out when she's next in town and GO. There's something about the informal, easy way she tells her stories, and the simple, beautifully observed humanity of the people and moments she describes. Oh, and then there are the seemingly effortless, crystal clear images and totally original turns of phrase that she just drops in, in passing, while going on to tell you about permafrost and family and what it's like to drive north and north through hours of sunset, chasing the light. Those amazing, single lines that grab me by the guts and remind me that damn, she's also one hell of a great writer.

Then last night I headed out to Saint Brigid's to see Tim Tingle's "Rolling Way the Rock" and the late night Vernacular Spectacular, which featured Anita Best, Marie Bilodeau, Ivan Coyote, The Copper Conundrum (Kevin Matthews, Danielle K.L. Gregoire and Rusty Priske), Charlie Chiarelli, and Alan Shain.

Tim Tingle blew me away. He had me mesmerized for at least an hour and a half while he told what was billed as "the story of the youngest man ever sent to Alcatraz" but what was really the story of a couple of Choctaw kids on a nearly inevitable steep slope to disaster, and about the tragedy that is the prison system, and about, finally, how there is goodness in the hearts of everyone. It was heartbreaking and gorgeous. I was astonished at the fact that he managed to maintain, through the whole thing, three very specific vantage points. One was himself, talking to a man, Cecil, who had spent thirty years in prison. One was the man, telling his story, and one was a third-person recreation of the experience of Cecil's friend Clarence, who was the teenager sent to Alcatraz. And you never lost sight of those three vantage points, even though when he was speaking as Cecil it was so intense - so clearly visualized, so vividly told, and so emotional - you believed he was teling his own story. It was hard, on the breaks and at the end, to haul myself back out of the world he'd created and into the present day: I wanted to stay and sit with it for a moment.

The 'Vernacular Spectacular' late night cabaret started out at 10:00, with dirty ballads from Anita Best (and Marie's sexy ghost story, which I always love), ended with a moving poem done by the Copper Conundrum that had the whole audience singing the refrain of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and in the middle taught me about Sicilian farmers and Yukon men, and finally gave me a chance to hear Alan Shain do his standup comedy (which was hilarious.) I wish there was time to talk about all of them in depth. It was a smaller, but not insignificant, audience, and we only left the venue at about 12:30 AM. There was a lot of cheering: a rowdier audience than at the earlier show, which was just perfect. And some Really Good Food being passed around by the youngest wait staff ever (I think she was about ten.)

I'm off this afternoon to the workshop "How To Tell a Story in Five Minutes," to get ready for the Story Slam tomorrow afternoon. I've never done any storytelling before, so this should be... enlightening. I'll report.