Behind the Scenes at Cirque Du Soleil's OVO

Friday, 9 June 2017

Until Wednesday night, I had never been to a Cirque Du Soleil performance, so I quickly said yes when I was invited to see OVO — Cirque Du Soleil's insect-inspired production — when it rolled into Hamilton. I also got the chance to peek behind the scenes where 50 performing artists from 12 different countries gather for wardrobe and make-up and to practice on a mobile jungle gym prior to their performances, which include aerial acrobatics, juggling, and trampoline tumbling.

The travelling production of OVO brings with it dozens of performers and crew, but it also travels with its own mobile wardrobe repair room equipped with thread of every colour and multiple sewing machines for daily costume repairs. It also brings a handful of industrial-strength washing machines and dryers, which are clearly a necessity for a performance with an "airbrush station." Here are just a few photos I snapped behind the scenes.

There are still tickets available for OVO's Saturday and Sunday performances at Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre. Be sure to see OVO before it scurries out of town.

Places from Books: Petty Harbour

Sunday, 7 May 2017
"I wish everyone I know today could have seen the Petty Harbour of my childhood. Let me try to paint for you a picture of what the inshore cod fishery of the mid-1970s till the late '80s looked like. When I was a kid, the fishery was going full bore. Petty Harbour was a twenty-four-hour town for more than half the year. At one point, three fish processing plants operated around the clock, employing hundreds of folks from town and down the shore. Workers began early and finished late; fishermen got up at the crack of dawn and headed to the wharf; trucks came and went at all hours of the day and night." — Alan Doyle, Where I Belong

I've been wanderlusty lately, which spurred an impromptu trip to Vancouver a month ago, and has led me to finally sort and print my photos from a trip my sister and I took last year to St. John's, Newfoundland. We spent most of our time wandering St. John's, eating and drinking along the way, enjoying the George Street Festival, and hiking, but we did also make time to explore the outskirts of the city. On the top of our list was Petty Harbour, a small town of approximately 950 people that's located on the eastern shore of the Avalon Peninsula, just south of St. John's.

Like I imagine is the case for everyone who reads Alan Doyle's 2014 memoir, Where I Belong, I fell in love with Petty Harbour, the musician's home town, through his exuberant and hilarious depictions of small-town life. Full of quirky characters who inhabited Doyle's childhood, Where I Belong is partly a tale of a musician's journey, but mostly it's about growing up in a fishing village on the edge of Canada where cutting cod tongues and making music are a rite of passage.

If you ever find yourself in St. John's, travel back in time to visit Petty Harbour. (But make sure to read Alan Doyle's book first).

Quotable: Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

"I was thirty-two—which really seemed like the tail end of my twenties, still. I felt as young as spring. When my mother was that age, she had already had me, after trying for five years. But it was different now. None of my good friends had babies. Not Emma, my second self, who had moved to Los Angeles to become an actress and live surrounded by otherworldly foliage in a little apartment on Whitley Avenue. Not Matt and Jesse, my friends since childhood; they had day jobs at websites and played in a band at bars on the Lower East Side at night. All of us still drank too much. All of us assumed we still had time for reinvention." 
— Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply

gritLIT 2017: Complete Schedule

Sunday, 2 April 2017

gritLIT 2017 is kicking off tonight at the Staircase Theatre with our annual partnered event with the Lit Live Reading Series, and then we take over the Art Gallery of Hamilton for festival weekend April 6-9. We're exceptionally proud of this year's line-up. Come say hello if you're able to check out any of the following events. Tickets are available at

Thursday, April 6, 2016
Poetry with the HPC (6:30 pm)
gritLIT partners with the Hamilton Poetry Centre for a vibrant presentation featuring Robin Richardson (Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis), Vivek Shraya (Even This Page Is White) and two team members from Hamilton Youth Poets (HYP).

War and Remembrance (8:00 pm)
Two perspectives on war on its legacy, featuring Diana Bishop (Living Up to a Legend: My Adventures with Billy Bishop’s Ghost) and Leslie Shimotakahara (After the Bloom).

The Disappeared (9:30 pm)
Gripping, unnerving stories about characters on the verge of disappearing from Iain Reid (I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Rebecca Rosenblum (So Much Love).

Friday, April 7, 2017
Lunch with the Dewey Divas (1:00 pm at Bryan Prince Bookseller)
Join Dewey Divas Andrea Colquhoun and Rosalyn Steele for a sneak peek at the best of summer reading from Penguin Random House and HarperCollins Canada. This event is hosted by gritLIT 2017 author Diana Bishop, and lunch is included.

Justice for All? (6:30 pm)
A revealing look at the Canadian legal system and the people whose lives it affects. Featuring reporter Christie Blatchford (Life Sentence) and memoirist Diane Schoemperlen (This Is Not My Life).

Identity and Self-Determination (8:00 pm)
Join Ivan Coyote (Tomboy Survival Guide), Bev Sellars (Price Paid) and Leslie Shimotakahara (After the Bloom) for an illuminating discussion about how we identify ourselves and how we are identified by others.

Worlds Away (9:30 pm)
Novelists Guy Gavriel Kay (Children of Earth and Sky) and Lesley Livingston (The Valiant) use Renaissance Europe and the Roman Empire as inspiration for tales of adventure and intrigue, pirates, spies and female gladiators.

Saturday, April 8, 2017
Writing Workshop: Memoir Writing with Diane Schoemperlen (9:30 am)
Diane Schoemperlen, author of This Is Not My Life, looks at how to turn personal experiences into readable and relatable stories.

Author Talk: Price Paid (11:00 am)
Award-winning author Bev Sellars debunks myths and addresses misconceptions about First Nations in this riveting discussion of her book, Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival. This event is pay-what-you-can.

Reading in the Digital Age (12:30 pm)
Author Merilyn Simonds (Gutenberg’s Fingerprint) and novelist/blogger Kerry Clare (Mitzi Bytes) examine how we enter the world of stories in the digital age.

Literary Salon with Ivan Coyote (2:00 pm)
Join award-winning author and performance artist Ivan Coyote for tea, sweets and one-on-one conversation at a lively, round-table discussion where you decide the topics.

Kyo Maclear at the HPL (2:00 pm at Central Library)
Follow Kyo Maclear’s journey from urban birdwatching to inspiration in Birds, Art, Life – a joyful examination of creativity and life’s small pleasures. This event is in partnership with the Hamilton Public Library. Free admission

Our Canadian Families (3:30 pm)
Ann Y. K. Choi (Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety) and Scaachi Koul (One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter) offer insight into the modern Canadian family.

Writing Workshop: The Art of Blogging with Kerry Clare (5:00 pm)
Author Kerry Clare draws on her 15+ years of experience blogging to show how to build a blog that works for you. A great workshop for both beginners and people who blog at work.

Democracy (In)Action (6:30 pm)
What if it is not our political system that is broken but our understanding of it? Dale Smith discusses his book The Unbroken Machine.

Anatomy of a Marriage (8:00 pm)
An intimate look inside two imperfect marriages and their far-reaching consequences with Shari LapeƱa (The Couple Next Door) and Kate Taylor (Serial Monogamy).

Women and Power (9:30 pm)
Annette Hamm talks with Denise Donlon about her long career as a leader in the Canadian music industry and her book, Fearless as Possible (Under the Circumstances).

Sunday, April 9, 2017
Writing Workshop: The First Page with Merilyn Simonds (10:00 am)
Merilyn Simonds is the author of 16 books and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Join her for an in-depth look at the all-important first page including tips and techniques for drawing readers into your story from the very first line.

Writing Workshop: Historical Fiction with Kate Taylor (11:30 am)
Kate Taylor‘s first novel, Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book (Canada/Caribbean Region). Join the author as she discusses how to use historical characters and events as building blocks for exciting, original new stories.

Youth Writing Workshop: Fantasy Fiction with Sarah Raughley (1:00 pm at Central Library)
YA Author Sarah Raughley shares tips and techniques for creating great fantasy fiction. This event is free admission but registration is required. For writers aged 13-17.

Hamilton Writes (1:00 pm)
Celebrate the work of three hometown authors with readings from Marnie Woodrow (Heyday), Jamie Tennant (The Captain of Kinnoull Hill) and Paul Benedetti (You Can Have a Dog When I’m Dead).

Telling our Own Stories (2:30 pm)
Memoir author Denise Donlon (Fearless as Possible), poet Chris Pannell (Love Despite the Ache) and graphic novelist Teva Harrison (In Between Days) share three different approaches to telling their own stories.

Drafts and Drafts (4:30 pm at Mills Hardware)
Close out festival weekend by joining authors Wayne Grady, Merilyn Simonds, Marnie Woodrow and three Hamilton writers for a drink and readings from their latest works-in-progress. To meet our 2017 Drafts and Drafts authors, click here. Tickets include one drink. $12 advance, $15 at door.

gritLIT Weekend Pass: $60
Purchase a gritLIT Festival Weekend Pass and get admission to all 16 reading events (value: $160) for only $60! Pass includes all paid reading events taking place at the Art Gallery of Hamilton plus Lunch with the Dewey Divas at Bryan Prince Bookseller. Drafts and Drafts at Mills Hardware: pass includes admission to event. Cost of drinks is extra. Writing Workshops and the Literary Salon are not included.

St. John's: Whale Watching with Iceberg Quest

Monday, 20 March 2017

I booked a trip to Vancouver last week, and I leave in just a few days. The excitement of heading to another coast reminded me that I still had a few posts from my St. John's, Newfoundland trip saved to my drafts, including this one about whale watching. Better late than never, right? This post is also especially timely because I'm on the final chapters of The Killer Whale Who Changed The World, Mark Leiren-Young's heartbreaking book about Moby Doll, the first publicly exhibited captive killer whale.

My sister and I booked our whale watching tour through Iceberg Quest, a tour operator with boats that leave from downtown St. John's. We were lucky to see dozens of whales, including a humpback that breached right beside our boat, a number of other humpbacks, minkes, and finback whales. Two other highlights were puffins and the incredible view of the St. John's shore. I tried not to spend the whole tour looking through my camera, but here are a few photos I managed to take.

View from our boat with Signal Hill in the background.

A palace on the water supposedly owned by the owner of Nascar.

A humpback breaches beside our boat (too close to even capture with my lens).

Review: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

Monday, 20 February 2017

Every once in a while a book floors me. It happened with Just Kids by Patti Smith. It happened with Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. This month it happened again when I was stunned by Kyo Maclear's elegant and wise memoir Birds Art Life.

Birds Art Life takes readers to city parks, harbours, and trails as Maclear seeks joy and solace through birding following a period in which her father's failing health consumes her. Though it is deeply appreciative of our feathery friends, Birds Art Life is hardly a manual for want-to-be birders. Rather, it's a contemplative journey exploring the ways in which the natural world can shape or influence our lives and art, yet at the same time, allowing us to escape them.

"For me, birding and writing did not — and do not — feel interchangeable. Birding was the opposite of writing, a welcome and necessary flight from the awkward daily consciousness of making art. It allowed me to exist in a simple continuity, amid a river of birds and people and hours. The stubborn anxiety that filled the rest of my life was calmed for as long as I was standing in that river."
Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life

Birds Art Life is also about waiting. It's about the act of sitting quietly along a river or at a park for a momentary glimpse of a bird or birds — so small in the grand scheme of things, but with an ability to intensely affect a birder. It's about patience, even if a birding experience is happening amidst a hurried city. Like most of us, Maclear failed to notice the avian life around her until she made the effort to be watchful.

"Sometimes in the quiet moments of waiting or walking in a place empty of people, in vacant lots where the damage and hideous underview of the city was not to be denied, I felt a loneliness that struck me to my core. Why would anyone invite the experience? And yet there was also something undeniably uplifting in catching glints of life, sharing sightings with strangers. There was grace in witnessing the constant aerial motion and nervous twittering of common species."

Birds Art Life is one of those books that constantly saw me jotting down and sharing passages, not only those about the flit and flight of birds, but also Maclear's musings about books, reading, and love. Here are just three examples of Maclear's crisp, intricate prose that gave me pause, causing me to read them over and over again.

Kyo Maclear on Children's Literature
"The spark of children’s literature — stories lusciously rendered in words and pictures — was distinctive and determining. These books had a radiant quality, a quality that Anne Carson describes in her book Decreation. 'When I think of books read in childhood,' she writes, 'they come to my mind’s eye in violence foreshortening and framed by a precarious darkness, but at the same time they glow somehow with an almost supernatural intensity of life that no adult book could ever effect.'"

Kyo Maclear on Books and Reading
"Books have given me great stores of happiness, but if I am honest with myself I can see they have also taken something away. I glimpsed the real world between paragraphs of novels. I traced words when I might have touched the ground.”

Kyo Maclear on Small, Intimate Moments
"One morning while standing at a cafe counter staring at the magnificently thick brows of the man making my coffee, I discovered one should not gaze too long at faces unless one is prepared to fall in love again."

Hamilton Winterfest 2017

Monday, 6 February 2017

In 2015, I attended my first Hamilton Winterfest kickoff event at Pier 8 (Read about it here). A year later, I was part of the organizing team at gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival who welcomed Lawrence Hill to Winterfest. This year, despite the cold, I was back at the kickoff event for a third year in a row, just long enough to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, listen to Syrian performance troupe – Yasmeen AlSham (Jasmine of Syria), and watch skaters take to the ice.

Hamiton Winterfest is a celebration of the city of Hamilton and the beauty of the season, which takes place between February 4-20. This year, as part of the festivities, gritLIT is pleased to present an evening of winter tales at the Staircase Theatre on Thursday, February 9. The event will include a reading by Heather O'Neill, the Winter's Tale flash fiction contest, and the reveal of the 2017 gritLIT Festival. Details and tickets are available at

See below for the event poster (Help spread the word!) and see a few photos from the Winterfest Kick Off event. Stay warm, #HamOnt!

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