I’m generally skeptical of one-man shows because I know they depend on the charm and talent of the star, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into Zack Adams: Love Songs for Future Girl.

The show stars Shane Adamczak, a native of Perth, Australia, who first introduced the Zack Adams character to Fringe Festivals in 2006. Following the success of his show The Ballad Of Frank Allen, Adamczak has brought Zack Adams back.

It should be said that the show’s subject matter is nothing original. It’s the story of a cis straight man, Zack Adams, discussing through song and story the women in his life, his travels, and his professional mishaps as a performer and children’s drama teacher.

I had the opportunity to email back and forth with Adamczak prior to show so I asked him if the character was based on anyone in particular.

“Zack is based partially on me, partially on people I knew in drama school, but mostly a figment of my imagination. I like to think of him as a cooler alter ego…like my version of Ziggy Stardust. He’s evolved a lot over the years; he started as a nervous performance poet then became a struggling actor, a time traveller and then a folk rock star. It’s nice to find an outlet to live my rock star fantasies, I suppose.”

People have compared the show to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and Adamczak is super flattered by the comparison as he’s a big fan of the book and film adaptation. He admits that there are a lot of similar themes with regards to music, reflecting on past relationships and how they can change you as a person. Adamczak’s portrayal of these themes through Zack Adams is however a lot fresher and more fun.

While Hornby’s hero is deflated and loveably sad, Zack Adams is funny, a little angry, and almost frenzied in his storytelling. There are gags in the show you won’t expect, and rants – sometimes in song, sometimes without – that will make you laugh.

He says Bob Dylan was the primary musical inspiration for the show with “a bit if cheesy 90s pop thrown in too,” something that will appeal to the thirty somethings in the audience. What really sells the show is Adamczak himself, who is charming and looks far too young to have been touring for ten years.

You won’t just be watching a schmuck on stage with a guitar, you’ll be watching dance moves and hand gestures and tales of hilarious misery all packaged in a ginger Aussie in an 80s punk-inspired studded denim jacket.

When I asked Adamczak what he would say to people thinking of seeing the show, he said:

“ABSOLUTELY do it. Bring your sister, brothers and significant others, we’ll make a night of it and you’ll leave smiling with a bunch of weird funny songs stuck in your head.”

Zack Adams says in the show that if a show is good, you’ll be talking about it with your friends for two weeks, but if it’s a bad show, you’ll talk about it forever. I’ll be talking about this one for at least two weeks. In the meantime, go see it! It’s worth it.

Zack Adams: Love Songs for Future Girl plays two more times at the Montreal Fringe, June 14th and 15th. For tickets and info: montrealfringe.ca

The Man Behind the Curtain is a hard show to review. Inspired by magic, the show is cramped, unpredictable, and uncomfortable, but it’s also fast-paced, hilarious, and intense.

The venue is set up in the apartment of co-writer and director Sam Jameson. Anyone who feels squeamish about attending a performance in someone’s home is missing out on a great show. Productions Presents describes the show as:

“A series of fantastical vignettes that are all tied together by the theme of magic… The show consists of the performance itself, the physical space around you, and the how the physical space changes over the course of the show. “

The Man Behind the Curtain stars Erik Leisinger and is directed by Sam Jameson who met on themet on the set of Glam Gam’s Fringe Production, Peter Pansexual, when Sam was director and Erik was a performer. They worked together again last year on Glam Gam’s Greasy: A Lesbian Love Story – currently the highest grossing Fringe play of all time.

In 2018, Jameson and Leisinger founded Productions Presents, a company for the work they produce together. When I had the chance to speak to them, the question on my mind was whether Jameson or Leisinger were actually magicians, given the show’s magic theme.

“Neither Sam or Erik are professional magicians, and quite frankly can’t really do magic to save their lives. Fortunately, Erik Leisinger’s childhood friend, Erin the Magician is a hotshot magician from the west coast and has helped us throughout the process.”

You will see magic tricks in this show, but they’re nothing spectacular, and as a viewer, you really won’t care because you’ll be too busy laughing. Unlike the classic theatre setup where audience and performance spaces are separate and distinct, The Man Behind the Curtain is immersive theatre, a type of show where “the entire performance area is a part of the show, and the audience has far more freedom to interact with the performance environment and the performers themselves.”

As audience members you won’t be picked on by the performers, but you will be expected to participate a little. That said, the venue has extremely limited space, with a maximum capacity of ten people.

Shows are often sold out so get your tickets in advance. You won’t be disappointed!

The Man Behind the Curtain runs through June 15. Tickets available at montrealfringe.ca

Spurt of Blood is NOT production for the faint of heart. It will make you uncomfortable physically and psychologically, but if you can tough it out I guarantee you a theatrical experience like you’ve never had before.

I had a chance to speak to Director Marissa Blair about what audiences should expect. She informed me that they are active participants as well as observers.

The layout of the performance is not your typical theatre layout. The audience is brought into a room with an oval of chairs surrounding the stage area, with only a couple of gaps to allow the cast in.

Each audience member is handed an LED light and instructed to turn on the light and swirl it above their heads if they decide they want to leave. Should they decide to do so, there will be no re-admittance and no refunds.

Disclaimers out of the way, the stage area’s only door is sealed with black duct tape and the lights are dimmed.

Spurt of Blood was written by philosopher Antonin Artaud when he was developing his Theatre of Cruelty philosophy.

“The show is what Theatre of Cruelty calls for, an attack on the senses. It is aggressive, and I take some risk in creating sensations – the Cruelty is the body’s necessary response. An audience member will hear, see, smell, feel, and possibly taste. It’s primal, and very effective.”

True to what Blair said, it IS an attack on the senses. Audiences are left in the dark half the time, with only flashlights, lit matches, or video projectors allowing us to see what’s going on.

You’ll hear recordings of music, and of noise. You’ll see images and videos projected onto the ceiling. And you’ll hear a variety of languages from French to English to Dutch and some you may not recognize.

There will also be riveting performances; Kathy Slamen was particularly powerful as the spotlight illuminated her harrowing tale of being diagnosed with cancer. Later in the show, she sang along to The Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again with the vocal prowess that would make Annie Lennox proud. Tofunmi Famotibe was beautiful as the joyful, dancing seductress in a red dress.

Some performances will make viewers uncomfortable. Jeroen Lindeman was so effectively creepy, his performance led to a couple of viewers raising their LEDs. He remained perfectly still as the lights went on so they could be led out of the room, before it was re-sealed, the lights dimmed, and the show went on.

Marissa Blair warned me that audiences should expect to be splattered with non-toxic washable stage blood, purchased from a small company in Chicago, Illinois. What she didn’t say is that the venue only has one bathroom, and the blood is VERY sticky – “a wonderful sensorial experience!” but only if you like being covered in syrup.

Some audience members – myself included – embraced being sprayed with blood, for in the moment it feels great and you truly feel part of what’s going on. Unfortunately with nowhere to clean off after the show, those considering seeing it should invest in a pack of wet wipes or pray that it’s raining when you’re out of the venue.

I had sticky fake blood in my hair, on my clothes, and all over my hands and arms. I marched straight from the theatre to the nearest shower as fast as I could.

What the author’s notebook looked like after the show

Though the massive spurts of blood were a truly climatic moment, the show continued, something I felt was unnecessary. The spraying blood was so powerful why not end on a high note?

That said, I had no idea what to expect when I went into Spurt of Blood, and I found myself enjoying the mindf*ck it gave me. If you’re afraid of the dark or squeamish around blood, don’t see this show. But if you’re feeling brave, and you have a raincoat and wet wipes, check it out!

Just don’t wear white.

Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood plays at the Montreal Fringe until June 15. Tickets and info: montrealfringe.ca

Photos by Samantha Gold

The Montreal Fringe Festival is a festival for the underdogs. As Fringe Spokesperson and Board President Helene Simard said at the festival launch, Fringe is a place for people who want to put on a show but have always been told “no”. Whether you’re a female artist, an artist of colour, a non-binary artist, or on an LGBTQI artist, “Fringe always has room for you.”

The Montreal Fringe Festival is huge, with hundreds of artists putting on shows from May 27th to June 17th. With so many shows to choose from, it’s hard to pick what to see.

One way to choose is to go to Fringe for All, an event that takes place on opening night of the Festival. At this event, anyone with a show at the Fringe can take the stage for two minutes to give prospective audiences a taste of what their show is about.

It’s an endurance test, as some of the snippets you see confirm every negative stereotype about independent theatre. But if you’re willing to tough it out, you’re going to find some real gems.

I’m here to help. Below you’ll find some of my pics for the best shows at Montreal Fringe 2019. Please note that I have tried to offer recommendations in a variety of genres and languages.

Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?

There is something inherently funny about a cutesy character behaving like an awful human being, and if the snippet I saw is any indication, the R’Iyeh Theater Company’s Why Are You Afraid of Clowns? is going to be a blast.

A man came on stage in a clown costume with a blanket over his head, screaming angrily. Then he pulled off the blanket, revealing a clown wig and red nose, handed an audience member an apple, and pulled out an axe.

It was short but hilarious, and by far the best snippet of the night.

Why Are You Afraid of Clowns?

Les Plaisirs Interdits

Some of the best comedy is about contrast, and like my last recommendation, Productions Belle Lurette’s Plaisirs Interdits offers just that.

The characters presented were prim and proper and in period costumes– a nun, a priest, a maid, and a very conservatively dressed upper crust man and woman. I was about to roll my eyes… and then they opened their mouths, and what came out was a slew of hilariously lascivious songs about sex and sexuality.

It’s a French language production, so if you have a poor grasp of the language you might not get all the jokes, but if you can manage, check it out!

House of Laureen Presents: Mx. Queerdo MTL

If you love drag, you need to check out Mx. Queerdo. Presented by House of Laureen, a Montreal-based drag family. The show stars Uma Gahd, and is all about a pageant, Mx. Queerdo.

If the snippet I saw is any indication, it’s going to be a blast!

Re-Imagined

I’m not much into dance shows, but if I were to see one at Montreal Fringe, it would be Eva Kolarova Danse’s show Re-Imagined. The twenty-five-minute show explores loneliness and relationships with contemporary dance.

Their two-minute bit at Fringe for All featured a dance at once graceful and erotic, portraying without words the complexity of human relationships.

Happy-Ish: Russian Immigrant’s Guide to Smiling

In the era of so much anti-immigrant sentiment in Quebec, Happy-Ish is a show worth seeing. Vadim Gran’s solo storytelling show is about a Russian immigrant trying to navigate life in Canada.

The bit I saw featured an angry bearded Russian man holding a smiley balloon while trying to smile to make himself more approachable… And failing spectacularly. It was hilarious and a good indication of things to come.

Opera Reviens-Moi

One thing Fringe heavily encourages is seeing a kind of show you never have before and opera is certainly outside the box for many.

Though the art form has a reputation for being more for rich old people, the snippet of Opera Reviens-Moi I saw was approachable and funny, and the actors certainly have the pipes befitting the genre. It looks to be a marriage of the classical and modern and a good way to introduce people to opera.

Fairy Fails

Fairy Fails is the story of a fairy who can’t fly. Starring House of Laureen’s Dot Dot Dot, it looks to be a treat for anyone who loves glitter, twinkles, twirls, and fairies.

A Brief History of Time

This play specializes in presenting complex concepts in a simplified, approachable format. Their presentation at Fringe for All used a variety of toys and props to explain astrophysics.

If you’re interested in the unknown but don’t feel like opening a book, check out A Brief History of Time. You might learn something.

L’Appel du Vide

Anyone who ever went through a witch phase in high school will want to check out L’Appel du Vide. It’s the story of a grieving witch who decides to perform a ritual to bring about the end of the world.

It looks hilarious and the bit I saw told me it will have all the theatrics a witch story needs.

L’Appel du Vide

The Aventures of Humphrey Beauregret: The Case o’Bianca

Following a successful award-nominated show last year, Philo 14 is back with an English sequel to their French language puppet show Les Aventures de Humphrey Beauregret.

The theatrics in The Adventures of Humphrey Beauregret: The Case o’Bianca seem to have been taken up a notch, but the drama and humour and puppets are still there, proving that puppets aren’t just for kids.

Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood

Director Marissa Blair assures you that there will be blood in Antonin Artaud’s Spurt of Blood, but it’s blood that will wash out. An immersive theatrical experience featuring a cast of characters as interesting as they are creepy, it’s play written by philosopher Antonin Artaud while developing his Theatre of Cruelty philosophy.

Though the snippet at Fringe for All was mostly disclaimers about the kind of blood in the show, it looks to be a sure thing for people wanting something a little different.

The 2019 Montreal Fringe Festival runs May 27-June 19. Full Schedule: MontrealFringe.ca

Featured Image via Montreal Fringe on Facebook

Local rapper and native Montréaler, Decent (@Dece_Af) debuted his album Dece as Fxck at a launch party hosted by Last Call Bar Creations on St. Laurent this past Tuesday evening. Although originally from the West Island, Decent spent several years abroad in England and Thailand. He’s now back in town and ready to take over the rap game with his natural talent for singing, rapping, and making beats.

Last Call Bar Creations

Last Call is spacious and well-lit. After receiving your ‘decent’ stamp at the door, you walk past several large camera lights set up for photos and some artists doing live paintings, and then into the main space with the stage dead ahead, a rack of Decent merch to your left, and Last Call’s bar to the right.

The ceilings are tall, and the room seems to be changing color with the light: blue, green, red, then blue again. Most people are having a drink and laughing with each other, some are dancing to the trap music being mixed by a DJ at the front of the room, as they wait for the show to start.

The room itself is so absorbing that when Decent jumps up on stage and starts singing without any warning, the transition almost goes unnoticed, but once he starts doing his thing he quickly commands complete attention of the room and the audience lets out a cheer.

Decent is comfortable on the stage, once or twice even stepping down into the center of the room, as well as stage-diving into the eager crowd of fans. His music is easy to dance to, and hard not to bounce to, and he knows it.

Check out Decent on instagram @dece_af, Apple Music, Youtube, or Spotify. Here’s a sample:

The weather is warming up, the city is a war zone of traffic and construction, and this only means one thing: it’s festival season in Montreal. On May 22, 2019 media reps attended a press conference for the 37th edition of the Just for Laughs festival. At the event, media members, myself included, were treated to a preview of the festival to come, and it looks to be a great one.

Wanda Sykes is coming to town to host a gala on July 26th, joining comedy stars Howie Mandel, Hasan Minhaj, and Jim Jeffries, who are all hosting their own galas. Trevor Noah is back to do a show, and festival staples like Brit-Ish and The Ethnic Show are back, with Jimmy Carr and Cristela Alonzo hosting.

The festival is also featuring rising stars like Malaysian comic Ronny Chieng, and American Nicole Byer. The Nasty Show, a festival favorite, is being hosted by comedian Bobby Lee this year.

Just for Laughs is a festival known to have launched the careers of Ali Wong, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, and Margaret Cho. Every year they offer an opportunity to new faces in comedy and this year is no exception. In addition to their regular New Faces series, this year will feature New Faces: Canada, featuring rising Canadian stars in comedy.

In addition to the regular fare, this year’s festival highlights the achievement of great women. Just for Laughs will feature Certain Woman of an Age, the critically-acclaimed autobiographical one-woman show by Canadian icon and international mental health advocate (and mother of our current Prime Minister) Margaret Trudeau. The show will have a three night run at the festival, from July 25th to 27th at Gesu.

The Second City Toronto is also bringing their show, She the People, to Just for Laughs, a sketch show created, written, designed, and performed by women, tackling everything from the patriarchy to the government.

This year also brings the return of the Zoofest/Off-JFL festival. Since its creation in 2009, this festival prides itself on giving more room to the next generation, allowing creators more freedom to do shows outside the traditional box of regular Just for Laughs fare. An added bonus is that tickets to these shows are generally cheaper too.

Artists this year include Ron Funches, Adam Conover from the hit College Humor series Adam Ruins Everything, Cameron Esposito, Sasheer Zamata, Andy Kindler, and the Lucas Brothers.

All that said, Just for Laughs 2019 looks like a blast. I’m going! Are you?

Tickets and info: hahaha.com

POP Montreal released the first part of their lineup for their annual fall festival at a 5 à 7 on Wednesday in their new venue, Chez Ursa, which is conveniently located right below their official headquarters.

The atmosphere at Ursa is friendly. Dan Seligman, POP’s co-founder and creative director, even acknowledged the good vibes as he thanked us all for coming.

The venue itself is quite cozy; lamp-lit, with a rug in front of the stage which creates a sense of the familiar comfort of being in your own living room, the only thing missing being seats. Although on my way to the venue I had the unfortunate luck of choosing a particularly broken Bixi bike, and so my feelings about the matter were more inspired by my aching legs than anything else… Choose your bike wisely, folks.

When I first arrive, Hua Li is casually mixing her set, fluidly transitioning between a mix of rap and RNB. Her adorable dog, Edna (pictured below), joins her on stage, calmly gazing out at all of us while Li sways rhythmically in time with the music. The combination of their presence invites a relaxed overall mood, though there is an air of something among us that is similarly curious and intriguing.

The performances also include POP’s first play: Trapped in Elon’s Mansion, written by Joe Bagel (of which a reading of an excerpt was performed at Chez Ursa). The play was inspired by a twitter fight between Elon and Jarrett Walker, and is full of rapid-fire witticisms, many in reference to Musk and his ex-girlfriend, Clair Boucher (Grimes), and their own various connections to Montréal.

Musk, giving his two cents to the mayor of Los Angeles

Some other noteworthy acts from the lineup also include: Laurie Anderson, Tirzah, and Aldous Harding. (Full list of performers to date pictured below). The festival is set to take place from the 25th to the 29th of this September throughout Montreal. Tickets are on sale now, and can be purchased through POP’s website.

FULL LIST: Laurie Anderson, Tirzah, Aldous Harding, Nick Cave, Weyes Blood, Kokoko!,  Yung Baby Tate, Moor Mother & Jerusalem in My Heart, Félicia Atkinson, Jon Bap, Hollerado and Xiu Xiu, Jess Sah Bi & Peter One, Tinariwen, Shonen Knife, 47Soul, Kedr Livanskiy, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, Oshun, Ian Isiah, Lafawndah, Ex Eye, Teto Preto, Torres, Jerry Paper, Kelman Duran, Daniel Norgren, Haviah Mighty, Blanck Mass, God Is an Astronaut, Marwa Loud, Helm, Emel Mathlouthi, Jessica Moss, Ellis, Bad Waitress, Charlie Cunningham, Fink, TiKA, Colin Stetson, Rebecca Foon, Rakta, Ellemetue, YlangYlang, Trapped in Elon’s Mansion, Hua Li, James Baley, Mobydick and Friends, Desiire and Odile Myrtile.


If Ned Starks’ death before the end of season one of Game of Thrones didn’t do it, the Red Wedding in season 3 cemented the fact that no character was safe on this show and anything could happen. The way the hit HBO show messes with the audience and defies expectations is why it’s the best show on TV right now and quite possibly one of the best of all time.

Now that The Long Night (the title of season eight, episode three) is over and the dust, or rather the shards, of former White Walkers has settled, it’s clear, at least to me, that The Battle of Winterfell delivered exactly what Game of Thrones promises. It’s just not in the way fans may have become accustomed to.

The Screen is Dark and Full of…I Don’t Know

Watching the episode live, our group wondered if there was something wrong with the streaming service we were watching it on as it was difficult to see a lot of what was happening at the beginning. Turns our Crave (I’m Canadian) wasn’t overloaded, parts of it were dark, in the literal sense, for everyone.

While this lead to complaints and even an explanation from the episode’s cinematographer (something about HBO’s compression rate), I think that the showrunners should just own this as an artistic choice. Because it’s a brilliant one.

It’s war. At night. In Winter. You’re not entirely sure what The Army of the Dead is throwing at our heroes. Well, neither are they.

When the flaming Dothraki swords go out, you don’t see what is happening to them, but you know it’s bad. You’re getting the same view of the battle that Jon (sorry, not going to call him Aegon until he asks another character to do so), Dany, Sansa and the Unsullied are. When the dragons crash into each other because of poor visibility, you don’t know right away that it’s just Jon and Danerys, and neither do they.

And I’d like to add that it looked beautiful. Everything doesn’t need to be brightly lit for it to be a cinematic treat.

Just as he did in The Battle of the Bastards, director Miguel Sapochnik made the audience feel as though they were in the midst of things for real. Low visibility and confusion for the audience is the new “I can’t believe you killed” x character.

All My Faves Didn’t Die

Speaking of character deaths, there were some major ones in this episode: Jorah, Theon, Melisandre, Lyanna Mormont, Beric Dondarrion, Edd and, oh yeah, The Night King and the entire Army of the Dead (plus we don’t know about Rahaegal the dragon and Ghost). Most of the fan focus, though, has been on those who did not meet their end.

With this discussion terms like “plot armor” pop up in order to infer that GOT has lost its edge and joined the ranks of ordinary storytelling. It’s actually the opposite.

Brienne of Tarth got knighted last episode, something she has always wanted. Grey Worm and Missandei made plans to travel when all of this was over, the Westeros equivalent of three days away from retirement from the police force and I bought a boat.

These characters didn’t enter the battle with plot armor, they did so with giant narrative bulls-eyes painted on their backs. Their survival here is as much an unexpected event as Ned’s death was way back when.

Of Course it Was Arya

So Arya Stark killed the Night King and with one stab ended the Army of the Dead. An unexpected twist ending. Well, not killing the Night King to win, that was the main part of the plan laid out in the last episode: use Bran to lure him to the Godswood and then somehow take him out.

No, the surprise is that it was Arya who assassinated him. Yes, the only trained assassin in Winterfell at the time carrying out the assassination was the big surprise.

Even if you ignore those who called Arya a Mary Sue (it’s easy to, they ignored the season and a half we saw her training to do just what she did in The Long Night), there are still plenty of people who were surprised by (and also elated at) the choice.

Sure, this is something the show has been setting up since season three. Sure, the guy who knows everything gave her the weapon she ended up using last season. Sure, she snuck up on Jon in the same location two episodes prior.

It’s just that Arya had her own storylines. The Night King was part of Jon’s storyline and later Dany’s. He wasn’t even on Arya’s list. Arya killing the Night King is about as unexpected as Jon killing Cersi.

With this move, GOT defied expectations by having the most logical thing happen. Now no plotline is safe from being intersected by another.

Cersi as the Final Boss

So wait, the Night King and the Army of the Dead are no more? The finale is Jon, Dany and company versus Cersi for the throne? That can’t be right.

Or so I thought for a bit after the episode ended. Pretty sure I wasn’t alone in this, considering how they have been building the supernatural zombie aspect of the show since the very first episode and the Night King specifically since Hardhome.

But they’ve also been building up the intrigue, the scheming and Cersi Lannister from the very first episode. And with good reason: her double-cross which seemed selfish and ignorant of the big picture turned out to be really good strategy.

The Army of the Dead are all truly dead and Dany’s forces are seriously diminished. And even if someone (hi Arya) assassinates Cersi, the Lannister forces and the Golden Company won’t instantly shatter like glass.

Making the battle for all life in the world the second to last act is a truly unique choice. The kind of expectations-defying choice that Game of Thrones has made throughout its run and continues to do in its final season.

James Mullinger has a very interesting story to say the least. A few years ago, he was living a celebrity-filled life in London, England as an editor for GQ. Now, he lives in New Brunswick and is building a name for himself on the standup comedy circuit.

FTB’s Hannah Besseau had a chance to speak with him before his Almost Canadian Tour arrives at Montreal’s Theatre Sainte-Catherine this Wednesday:

Win Tickets!

James Mullinger will perform Almost Canadian this Wednesday, April 24 at 7:30pm at Theatre Sainte-Catherine, 264 rue Ste-Catherine Est. To win a pair of tickets, simply comment on this post, or on FTB’s Facebook share with your favourite city or town in New Brunswick. You can also tweet your favourite city or town in New Brunswick to @forgetthebox

We’ll randomly draw the winner from the entries we receive and announce who gets the tickets Wednesday morning. If you don’t win, you can buy tickets through ThePointOfSale.com.

Anyone who grew up in Canada in the 70s and 80s grew up with the songs of Raffi. An Armenian born in Egypt whose family immigrated to Canada in 1958, he became a household name following the release of his first album in 1975.

He was in Montreal on Sunday to do a couple of performances at Theatre Maisonneuve and he did not disappoint. All proceeds went to the Raffi Foundation, a group that commits to helping the most vulnerable and recognizes that : “Every girl and boy is entitled to love, to dream and belong to a loving village and to pursue a life of purpose.”

The stage was set with an easy chair, a guitar stand, and a rug, giving audiences the impression that we were visiting him at home and not seeing a legend. He bounded on stage with a spring in his step, radiating more life at age 70 than most of us do at 30.

Though his beard and receding hair are now salt and pepper gray and he’s swapped his Hawaiian shirt for a long sleeved plaid one, his voice rings clear and true as it did 40 years ago and radiates the same level of warmth Gen Xers and Yers have grown to know and love.

His audience was comprised of parents who bought his albums in the decades ago and people who grew up with him, some with kids so small their feet barely reached the edge of their seats, some without kids who are there because they crave the kind of loving comfort he offers in an economy that won’t pay fair wages and is systemically trying to strip our rights away. I was of the latter group, and as he began to play I found myself singing and clapping along as I did at the age of five in my pajamas while my parents played his albums on vinyl.

Raffi announced that there would be singing, guitar, “and a lot of bad jokes.”

“It wouldn’t be Raffi without Dad jokes,” smiled fellow concert goer Sarah Anderson.

Raffi started with the classic tunes he’s known for, including Six Little Ducks, Tingalayo, and his version of the Jamaican folk song Day O. True to form, he always let the audience know when they should participate with strategically timed claps, call lines, or sound effects.

He played the annoyingly catchy Banana Phone song with a few ad-libbed lines, including, when singing about all the people he would call with said phone: “I’ll call the White House and have a chat!” It was a line that prompted cheers from the adults in the crowd but was undoubtedly lost on the children.

Though Raffi played tunes from his newest album, Dog on the Floor, he played up to what he affectionately refers to as the Baby Beluga Grads, people like myself who grew up with his music.

I was happy to see him play my favorite of his songs, Down by the Bay, a song that features a lot of silly animal rhymes and wordplay and leaves room for ad libs. When I was a kid in the 80s and 90s dabbling in poetry, I used to try and come up with my own lines for the song, and Raffi did not disappoint that inner child.

He jokingly attempted lines he knew wouldn’t work, causing older audience members to bust out laughing before he finally concluded with: “Did you ever have a time…When you couldn’t make a rhyme?!”

As he guided the audience, he chuckled, giving you the vibe of a favorite uncle or long lost grandfather. Though the concert was only about an hour long – a choice undoubtedly mindful of the limited attention spans of younger audience members – he packed as much as possible into that hour, playing two medleys of his classic tunes.

He often concluded a song by turning to the side, guitar handle out, back arched, in a nod to heavy metal and rock stars. Though most audience members were as well-behaved as could be given the young age of many, there were unfortunately at least two jerks who kept yelling demands for the song Baby Beluga, the Raffi concert equivalent of yelling “Do Stairway!” at a rock concert. Fortunately, Raffi remained unfazed and continued on with a smile, playing the requested song only when he was ready.

When the concert ended Raffi got a standing ovation that was well-deserved. Just as we thought it was over, he bounded back on stage to treat us all with an encore, including a new verse he wrote for Baby Beluga to address all his fans that have since grown up. In it was a call to action, telling us that we were the future, and to fight for social justice, equality, and against climate change. It was this final gesture that brought a tear to my eye and had me sniffling a bit as I left the concert hall.

After all, if Raffi believes in us, shouldn’t we?

Featured image via YouTube

The Mountains We Climb By Accident, the first novel by Montreal writer, poet and occasoional FTB contributor Dawn McSweeney, is a real treat of a book. It would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for someone who likes well-told stories and supporting local talent.

Full disclosure, I’m not just a reader, I was also the book’s editor. So while I may be a biased reviewer, I’m mainly biased because not only is it written by someone local, it’s also unabashedly set in Montreal.

This city serves as a backdrop for our protagonist Talia’s life story, or rather early to almost mid-life story. We jump back and forth with her, landing on key experiences and staying with them a bit, sometimes returning, sometimes not.

This non-chronological narrative approach has an internal logic based on how and when a person remembers certain events. McSweeney explained it to me when I interviewed her a few months ago.

It really works here. The writing is sharp and fast-moving, the characters are believable and you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I generally look for political intrigue or outright sci fi or fantasy when it comes to the fiction I consume and that’s not what this novel offers. The focus here is on Talia’s relationships with romantic partners, family and friends.

Thanks, though, to McSweeney’s storytelling, it kept me interested from start to finish. I can only imagine it will do the same for people who are fans of the genre already.

Dawn McSweeney’s The Mountains We Climb By Accident is solid Montreal-based storytelling and a great first novel-length offering by a local author.

You can buy it in paperback or as an e-Book through Amazon

In light of the recent #MeToo Movement, several radio stations removed the duet Baby It’s Cold Outside, a holiday classic, from rotation. Some, like the CBC, later added it back.

Critics consider it inappropriate and suggestive of date rape because of a line the woman has: “Say, what’s in this drink?” If you are familiar with the early 1940s, when the song was written, you will realize that was said as part of harmless banter.

Things were simpler, people were nicer, and conservative morals reinforcing the stereotype of the good (chaste) girl were ever-present. Most people who were courting did not end their nights in bed together unless they were married, to do otherwise broke a social taboo.

So, it is really sad that the song is being perceived in any way but innocent and sweet banter between two lovers. Banning it is ludicrous, especially considering what other songs we have playing on the radio today.

If this song is banned, then half of the playlist should be banned too. Eminem’s Guilty Conscience, Robbin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, Eminem and Rihanna’s Love The Way You Lie, Jay Z’s 99 Problems and many other songs that convey mistreatment of women in one way or another still play with no protest to ban them.

It’s truly sad that a beautiful song that was written in the 40s as romantic flirtatious banter can be put through such scrutiny and judged by today’s standards while songs written a few years ago aren’t.

It is true that violence against women is an issue that needs to be exposed and spoken about on a more regular basis, but removing a holiday classic from radio play is not the way to go about it. Especially since there are far worse songs out there than Baby its Cold Outside.

Usine 106U is not like other art galleries. It’s not immaculately clean or impeccably organized, and its outer mural is as colourful and eccentric as the art you’ll find within.

Located in the Plateau next to the iconic Else’s Pub, the gallery attracts everyone from painters to sculptors to dollmakers and photographers. The gallery’s openings on the first Thursday of every month feature works that range from the classic to the extreme and the atmosphere is one of an eccentric family reunion rather than a formal affair.

Inside Usine 106U

While most galleries in Montreal charge huge commissions and exhibiting fees, Usine 106U takes fifty dollars a month and ten percent commission on any sales. In exchange, every artist gets four by five feet of space to show their work to passersby and regular visitors. Artists who volunteer their time running the place get all fees and commissions waved.

A Concept that Grew Over a Decade

The official caretaker of the gallery is Eric Braün, a multidisciplinary artist known for his acrylic paintings of creatures. His style for me is reminiscent of Bosch and Dali, with a hit of Nightmare Before Christmas thrown in.

Usine 106U has been around for 12 years. In the beginning, it was just a show of the same name.


Eric Braün

A guy from Paul’s Boutique record store lent Eric and other artists a paddock with the goal of creating art on the spot, filling the walls as they went. The show lasted one week and was hugely successful, with the media and others coming in to wait, ready to buy the works in progress once they were finished. Almost everything was sold.

The show’s success led to an offer to continue it through to the end of the month, followed by an offer to rent the space on a monthly basis. From there came the idea of artists sharing the cost and management of the place and the rest is history.

When I asked Eric about the name, he explained that it was a French play on words.

“If you pronounce in French the number ‘cent six’ – one zero six – and the letter u it makes ‘sans issu’ and ‘sans issu’ sounds like ‘sans issue’ which means ‘no way out’ and that was the title of my anthology cause I used to do comics so it was always a collective. But back then it was international and silent so it could be distributed in many different countries without having to translate.”

In addition to Eric’s paintings, he also has copies of his comic books and sculptures for sale at the gallery. When I asked what kind of artists he feels the gallery attracts, Braün spoke of people who do very intense personal work, “outsider art” that doesn’t fit current fashion, and some old style abstract pieces.

Open But Selective

Eric is discriminating in his choice of artists who get to show there: “If someone does some really bad copies of some photos that you see on the internet I tell them they should work more on their stuff and come back later,” he said.

When looking for artists to admit to the gallery, he’s not looking for perfection but originality and honesty in the work. Currently there are 40 different artists showing their work with the common thread being that:

“Everything is figurative, there’s a narrative, there’s a story being told and everything is kind of explorative. People take chances, they develop their own language, they go into their own world, and they keep working at it to create something that is original and unique.”

If there is a word to describe the art at Usine 106U, unique is certainly it. Whether it’s the hyperdoodled paintings and guitars of artist John Lanthier, Jean Martin Raven’s sculptures, or the realistic yet wonderfully eerie paintings of Xavier Landry.

John Lanthier painting a guitar at Usine 106U

Much of the art is not for the faint of heart, with art depicting graphic nudity, sex and violence displayed alongside cutesy hand knitted dolls. That said, Usine 106U is more than a gallery.

Home Away From Home

For artist John Lanthier, it’s a home away from home. He’s been showing his work at Usine since 2015 and like many artists, he volunteers his time in exchange for showing there:

“I enjoy making art in the environment here and appreciate having a permanent gallery space where my psychedelic paintings, sculptures and custom guitars can feel at home amongst the many diverse local artworks that cover the walls. Thanks to Eric Braun I’ve also had my Hyperdoodling paintings and Guitart instruments featured in the last nine magazines…which is pretty cool.”

The magazine in question was created following Eric Braün’s failed attempts to get his work in a local art magazine which was poorly managed and written. So like any pioneer, Braün decided to publish his own, and Usine106Us quarterly free magazine features work from a variety of artists showing at the gallery.

As a working artist, Usine 106U saved me from a dark time in my life. Their collective welcomed me with open arms, a tale shared by many who come to the gallery hoping for an affordable space to show their work. In addition to the monthly vernissages, they also do free collage workshops (bring your own glue).

When I asked Eric Braun what advice he had for aspiring artists, he was very pragmatic:

“Get a job to pay your bills and then do art with your needs taken care of or you’ll go crazy.”

The gallery is located at 160 Roy East and is open every day from noon to 6pm. Check it out.

Photos by Samantha Gold

I have grown accustomed to a new Star Wars movie around the holidays. Since there isn’t one this year, what better time to post my really late spoiler-filled review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which I finally got around to watching about a month ago:

This was the first time I had the chance to see a Star Wars movie in the theatre and didn’t. I even saw The Phantom Menace twice on the big screen. Not sure why I put off watching it, but I’m glad I did.

I really enjoyed it and I think seeing it on a smaller screen first helped, even though the performances, effects, stunts and the production as a whole were all blockbuster caliber. Where Rogue One was a standalone story that drew from and tied directly into the saga films, Solo was more tied to the Star Wars TV shows, The Clone Wars in particular.

Yes, we get Han, Lando, and Chewie meeting for the first time, the Falcon doing the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs and a reference to the “big job” on Tatooine, plus there’s a pretty good explanation for Han’s standoffish approach to Leia in the Original Trilogy. In broad strokes, this film is tied to the most iconic movies in the franchise.

However, this movie lives in the universe of the TV shows. If you didn’t get and enjoy the references to the Pike Syndicate or Aurra Sing, you never saw The Clone Wars or at least not all of it. If you were confused by the hologram near the end and thought “Didn’t that guy die in The Phantom Menace?” instead of “Of course she works for Maul!”, your fandom is limited to the big screen.

That said, this movie certainly checks all the boxes for a flick that can be enjoyed on its own by someone who has never seen any Star Wars (such people exist, I’m told) as much as people who know the franchise inside out. It’s easy to see how the people who think they know Star Wars and should be getting all the references but aren’t may feel let down.

For hardcore fans like myself, the kind of people who like to rank the Star Wars films, don’t rank Solo. In general, I don’t think the anthology films should be in the same ranking system as the saga films, as they’re basically really good, extremely high-budget, live action Star Wars TV episodes. In the case of Solo, it’s the pilot for a series I am interested in seeing more from.

The problem is that the only other anthology film released to date is Rogue One, which is up there with the best of the saga. Better than Empire? Maybe. Better than the prequels? Sure. It’s basically Episode 3.5.

Solo is not Rogue One, nor should it try to be. It’s what I thought the anthology films would be like all along.

Solid storytelling. I felt sad when Han didn’t walk away with Qi’ra, though happy I had watched Emilia Clarke on screen for over two hours without once thinking of Daenerys. Plus we all know who Han ends up with.

I also loved the bits about droid self-determination and the reveal that the so-called marauders were actually the rebellion in its infancy. I honestly didn’t see the last one coming but I’m glad that it did.

I like the way Star Wars is going and can only hope that Disney realizes poor box office for Solo is primarily due to it being released in the summer, directly competing with Marvel (ie. Disney) and take that into account as they re-evaluate their rollout strategy. I also hope that fans learn to appreciate these anthology films for what they are and not expect every one to be Rogue One.

If you haven’t seen this one yet and you’re a Star Wars fan, I suggest that you do. If possible, around this time of year and in a way that Disney will register, so they remember that Star Wars features now work better in the winter.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of those shows with a cult following. Devotees of Rocky Horror and other Angry Inch fans (called “HedHeads”) love Hedwig for its nods to drag, gender bent characters, humor, queerness and glam rock. The story is at once heart wrenching and inspirational, with catchy tunes that make you want to dance in your seat and sing along.

I had the privilege of speaking to producer of the current Montreal run and the show’s Yitzhak Noelle Hannibal by email. Originally from Los Angeles, she made her theatrical debut playing Chrissy in Hair and her film and television credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: Voyager and Cracker: Mind Over Murder.

Hannibal has had a love affair with Hedwig since she saw her friend Michael Cerveris assume the role from its creator John Cameron Mitchell in the late nineties. There had only been one or two productions in Montreal over the years and it had always been in the back of her mind as something she wanted to do.

Composer and lyricist for the original show Stephen Trask was present for opening night to do a post-show Q&A. He said that originally the show didn’t have a script, only John Cameron Mitchell’s idea to do a show about himself and a request that Trask adapt a story from Plato’s Symposium. That said, I asked Hannibal if they had an actual script to work with for the Montreal show.

“When the show was produced off-broadway in 1998, there was a fully realized script. That is the version we used,” she said, ” prior to that production, it was developed in bars and at parties, beginning with Hedwig’s debut at Squeezebox, a drag bar where Stephen was the music director. When the Broadway version was produced in 2014, there were many differences. In order to create a bigger show more fitting for a large Broadway house like the Belasco Theatre, there was additional dialogue and an added song.”

Hannibal also told me that she was in contact with Stephen Trask throughout the rehearsal process as it was important to her that they present his preferred version of the songs given the differences between those in the film, the off-Broadway version, and the Broadway version. He provided one or two notes after their dress rehearsal.

There has been a lot of controversy in the media recently with regards to cis actors being cast in transgender roles. Given that Andrew Morrissey, who is a cis male, is playing Hedwig, I asked Hannibal if she considered casting a transgender actor and she provided an important clarification with regards to the character’s gender identity:

“John Cameron Mitchell describes Hedwig as genderqueer and not trans. As she has had genital reconstruction surgery because of circumstance, I think it is important to mention. We auditioned every actor and non-actor who submitted and cast the best person for the role.”

The band is quite important to the show given how they interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak. I wondered if they cast musicians with acting experience or actors who could play.

“With the exception of Kevin Bourne (guitar), who came highly recommended by a couple of friends, I have worked with both Stephen Menold (bass) and Sebastian Balk-Forcione (drums) on other productions,” Hannibal answered, “I prefer working with people over and over. There is an established trust. I am fully confident they will be able to handle anything we throw at them, including snazzy costumes, eyeliner and hair colour!”

As a huge fan of the movie, I noticed that this show focused a lot more on the abusive relationship between Hedwig and her husband, Yitzhak, something that was minimized in the film. Hannibal said that John Cameron Mitchell wrote the book with detailed stage directions and notes and they decided to stay true to his vision. With regards to Yitzhak’s character, Hannibal points out that the film doesn’t give him any back story whereas the stage script does. In the stage script, Yitzhak is described as the most famous drag queen in Zagreb.

With regards to the show’s animations, most were done by their director and choreographer Nadia Verrucci. For The Origin of Love Animation, Hannibal found it on YouTube and reached out to the artist to get permission to use it in the show.

For all those who have seen the movie and not the show, and to those that had never seen the show or film before, Hannibal said to come in with an open mind. I say do that, and come with an open heart as well. The story is at once funny, sad, and uplifting.

* Featured image by Romantic Photographic

On a chilly night in November at Cabaret Mado in Montreal’s Gay Village, a band takes the stage. At a microphone on one side is a drag king, looking somber and sad as a solitary figure in a cloak covered in stars and stripes walks on stage to the tune of America The Beautiful.

Suddenly the figure, seemingly a blonde woman glamorously made up, turns, grabs the central mic and breaks into her number Tear Me Down. It’s the opening of In the Wings Promotions production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and its title character, Hedwig, has just taken the stage.

This is not your typical play. Based on the so-called “off off off off-Broadway show” and film by John Cameron Mitchell and composer and lyricist Stephen Trask who was present during opening night for a post-performance Q&A). It’s the tale of a “slip of a girly boy from communist East Berlin” who gets a sex change in order to marry an American soldier and cross over to the ally-controlled Western side of the city at a time when the Soviet Union restricted access.

It is not a play featuring many characters played by many actors, nor are there elaborate scene changes. The story is told almost entirely by Hedwig while she and her band, the Angry Inch, and her husband Yitzhak, perform across from a venue where her last spurned love, the star Tommy Gnosis, is playing to crowds of adoring fans. Her storytelling is interrupted by the show’s numerous songs, including the famous sing-along Wig in a Box.

Andrew Morrissey plays Hedwig. He does a fine job showing her struggles with her sexual identity, finding love, and peace with herself in America. His makeup, wigs, and costumes, done by Jess Beyer and Sig Moser, are faithful recreations of what people have come to expect of the character: black leather, denim, and studs that are staples of eighties and nineties rock outfits, Hedwig’s blonde curls with their signature center part, and the garish blue eye shadow, penciled eyebrows, and red lipstick.

Morrissey is unsteady in his high heels at times and his singing is occasionally pitchy, his German accent ranging from pronounced to non-existent. That said, he has the stage presence and the emotion the character requires. In the parts where Hedwig is coming unglued, you never doubt the sincerity of it.

It is not, however, Hedwig that steals the show in this production, but rather her second husband, Yitzhak, played by producer Noelle Hannibal. Clad in the beard and shapeless clothing of a drag king, her portrayal conveys the depression, fear, and passive aggressiveness of someone in an abusive relationship.

You feel it in every gesture, in every insult muttered under his breath, and in every passive reaction to Hedwig yanking the microphone from his hand when his powerful feminine voice breaks through hers. While Morrissey’s performance was very true to form, it is Hannibal’s portrayal that I remember the most clearly from that night.

The band, known as The Angry Inch never misses a beat (despite some issues with the sound system that night). Though they are clearly musicians first, they do have some acting talent and interact with Hedwig and Yitzhak throughout the show.

The show also featured animations by flash animation artist, StickdudeSeven. While they lacked colour and were less stylized than the animation in the Hedwig and the Angry Inch movie, they did suit the material well. Unfortunately, the stage was not set up to truly do them or the projected lyrics for the sing-along justice. They were projected onto a screen at the back of the stage that was so low to the floor that Hedwig, standing in front of the stage, often obscured them. A set up that was higher or ever above the stage would have been easier to follow.

All that said, the play is a lot of fun. The story is sincere and relatable to anyone struggling with gender identity, domestic abuse, artistic expression, or just finding oneself. The music is catchy and uplifting with the occasional hint of guttural sex. Check it out.

* Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays Wednesday, November 21 and Thursday, November 22 at 8pm at Cabaret Mado, 1115 Ste-Catherine Est. Tickets available through In The Wings Promotions

** Featured image by Romantic Photographic