A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #65 - WEEK OF NOVEMBER 9-15, 2015

And now for something completely different

IF the Poet Photo: ©2015 Peter Ivaskiv

Live from the Annex (Mea Culpa/MARRAM/Annex Improv)

The Garage, Centre for Social Innovation, 720 Bathurst Street

Tuesday, November 3; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

About some twenty years ago down at Harbourfront Centre’s Bill Boyle Artport – then called York Quay Centre – there was a weekly comedy improv series called Theatresports where the city’s brightest comics honed their talents in the Brigantine Room that I’d frequent on a near-monthly basis for a couple of years until they unfortunately ceased that programme sometime around in the mid-1990s and moved it elsewhere. I kind of missed that type of spontaneity of working on-the-spot antics with the audience and the players involved, plus it was relatively inexpensive.

Something of that nature has returned, this time at the pub/café Centre for Social Innovation in the form of Live from the Annex (LFTAnnex), a monthly variety show run on the same principle like the original Muppet Show, only with people and twice the chaotic energy run as Theatresports did, throwing in music, comedy, various acts and maybe a special guest or so, has been in there for quite a few months and now making themselves wider known in the community, showing some equitable promise to continue.

In the sizeable crowd in the tiny corner known as The Garage for a venue in the November 3 line-up hosted by Sasha Wentges that included the house improv troupe Brunswick Stew, comedian Silvi Santoso, slam poet IF the Poet, sketch collective Plum Thunder and alt-rock cover trio AVRO from Uxbridge, Ontario; nobody wasted time by opening with a Saturday Night Live-like intro from Centre of Social Innovation director Brian G. Smith for the live to webcast in getting down to business.

Santoso went on with her material involving a few puns, family matters with her three children and a caustic ukulele tribute to her ex, felt somewhat light and sophomoric in her delivery, whereas Plum Thunder featuring Troy Martin, Bryan Paccagnella and Erin Crouse came out a bit stronger with their skits, the first being about three advertising execs trying to sell POOP laced with scatological barrages and the second involving some rather insistent Rogers Cable heavies (from Germany) leaning on a wayward customer was way more hilarious.

Award-winning slam poetry performer IF the Poet – better known as Ian French – was a highlight of the evening with his concise lines and topics ranging from the educational system and ADD (“Growing Up Working”), nonconformity (“The Question”), religious satire (“I Don’t Think God…”) and the state of modern marriage (“Call It Love”) ranges from moments of quiet grace to being a whirlwind of hyperactivity and the tact of a Molotov cocktail thrown at the subject he aims at, should be heard and heard well.

The six-member ensemble Brunswick Stew put on some good stuff with the basic tag-team riffing on audience-advised topics – with special guest 2015 Canadian Improv Award champion Kris Siddiqi getting involved in their shenanigans – in their first skit involving beer, sex and liver problems (not necessarily in that order), trouble in paradise for a couple vacationing in the Bahamas, a exercise of “You’ll Go, I’ll Go” of a blind-date couple moment playing off each other and getting weirder with the usage of Singaporean witch hazel and Satanic worshipping and a crazy operatic spoof this side of the Bugs Bunny classic “What’s Opera, Doc?”.

AVRO threw in some sensible tunes by Adam Cohen (“We Go Home”), Elliot Brood (“The Valley Town”) and July Talk (“Guns and Ammunition”) to fill in the gap as Tamara Williamson, Patty Ewaschum and Tania Joy express their rock roots on just guitars for a rather entertaining evening away from the usual cabaret offerings as put on by LFTAnnex in a cozy venue with local talent loaded with flavour. Each show will be different from line-up to line-up, but it does guarantee something completely different.

***

Monthly shows begin each first Tuesday of each month (the holiday edition December 1), shows start at 8 p.m.. For tickets/information, visit: livefromtheannex.com.

Rock the Iambic

Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs

by Erik Didriksen

127 pp., Quirk Books/Random House Canada

Hardcover, $15.95

Poetry/Humour

Book Review

Centuries long after his death, the wordage of William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan prose still proves to be pretty popular even into the music charts – recall the Romeo and Juliet-inspired second verse to the 1950s jazz chestnut “Fever” sung by Peggy Lee – although if few people can figure it all out and try to lighten it up for the sake of satire that he would approve of (after all, he did write some great comedies).

What started out as an exercise in humour for software engineer and poet Erik Didriksen as fun with the iambic pentameter on his weekly popular blog popsonnets.com of covering some of the best-loved rock and pop songs of the last half-century has been gathered into Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs. Something akin to a greatest-hits collection from the blog manages to bottle some of the well-versed verses into the sonnet structure of the Immortal Bard’s time, weaving a little story that could have be concocted by the minstrels if they actually did existed, does offer a few giggles in the process.

Check out some of the lines condensing the classics like The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer”: “But when at last I saw her visage fair, my chill’d convictions thaw’d to my relief/I’m now the heart’s disciple, deep in pray’r and thoroughly devout in my belief” sounds a lot more extended to the original: “Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer.” Or for more contemporary stuff, say Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” goes: “—if truly you did wish to win my hand, you should have graced it with a wedding band.”

Of course some things do get lost in the translation, like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Olivia Newton-John/John Travolta’s “You’re the One that I Want” as some examples, that doesn’t quite pack the pentameter punch as Didreksen would have like or thought was funny at the time, although one has to give him credit for putting in the effort into an otherwise amusing take.

A little sophistication goes a long way in reading a rendition of Billy Joel’s own ode to the barroom prose “The Piano Man”: “The sailor and the merchant, they converse – the wenches flirt – the merchants, they get sous’d/The tavern-keeper smiles about the purse he’s earnèd from the crowd I’ve here arous’d./ – The people cry, ‘Another tune, anon! If the music be thy trade, good sir, play on!’”. And at times there’s something deeply brewing in reading Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” that should be adapted into its own play in reading its opening lines: “Hath this metallic man been render’d mad? Do his eyes see, or hath his vision laps’d?/ Is he adept at walking iron-clad, or if he moves, will he found collasp’d?”.

Some of the illustrations, as lightly rendered by Timothy O’Donnell, fits in certain places as something that would decorate a book of the thespian than others and while they’re good artworks, they kind of feel like a afterthought when you’re mainly concentrating on the writing. Still, Pop Sonnets plays along on the silly side of Shakespeare with delight on its pages that would make any English teacher crack a grin.

Turner’s restless, creative agony

The Art Gallery of Ontario has exclusive dibs on showing J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free's only Canadian stop, including this painting “The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa” in the touring exhibit.

J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free

Venue: Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West

Dates/Times: Through January 31, 2016; Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesdays and Fridays 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Weekends 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Admission/Information: Adult $19.50, Seniors/Students/Youth (6-17) $11, Child (under 5) FREE. Call 416-979-6648 or visit: ago.net.

Gallery Review

Probably spurred on by the interest generated from the recent critically-acclaimed biopic on the 19th-century British landscape artist J.M.W. Turner, the Art Gallery of Ontario gets the exclusive Canadian viewing of the Tate Museum touring exhibit Painting Set Free as an example of his genius into what made him a national institution in his native England, the influence he set for future artisans and the concept of landscape artistry as a whole.

Geared in looking into the last fifteen years of his life, the latter works and the important people in his life are the focus of this exhibit out of the 3,000 watercolours Turner donated to the British government at the time of his death (plus 300 sketchbooks) made out from a sixty-five-year career he built on has some depth and, looking closely, managed to slip in a little social commentary of the day into some of them that floated between the dreamlike to the malevolent and always theatrical in a sense.

Left-right: “Peace – Burial at Sea” and “War, The Exile and the Rock Limpet” show the commentary from Turner's brushes on the canvas.

“War, The Exile and the Rock Limpet,” for example, where amidst in the setting environ of reds and browns is none other than a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte standing near the water’s edge with a British sentry at watch, is a stark statement in regard to the French military dictator’s legacy in the wake of his death in exile and his remains returning to France couldn’t be more explicit to what was going through the painter’s mind.

There’s a section dedicated to a series of works related to his Venice period ranging from the intensely rich detail etched out in “The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa” to a more subtle approached from the milky greyish scenery being penetrated with a burst of red and yellow coming from the centre of “Venice at Sunrise from the Hotel Europa, with the Campinile of San Marco.”

“The Blue Rigi, Sunrise,” recently acquired by the Tate Museum for an estimated C$10 million.

Turner was a introverted person of few words in real life, yet he conveys a lot of emotion in mourning with “Peace – Burial at Sea” awash with heavy blacks, blues and a lot of dramatis of a burning ship and oddly enough, irony in tribute to a friend who perished on a ship en route home from Gibraltar is the strongest piece in the exhibit, which brings to another subject Turner had a knack for: fully capturing the force of nature.

Since he was a man of the sea and stormy ones at that (rumour had it he once had himself strapped to a mast during a violent gale to get the effect etched into his memory for future paintings), there’s plenty of examples abound in “Fishing Boats Bringing a Disabled Ship into Port Ruysdael,” “Rough Sea with Wreckage” and a small series dedicated to whaling in getting into the topic of man-versus-nature are evocative ones.

Bringing history alive in “Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus: The Triumphant Palace of the Caesars Restored”.

Other themes explored are some connected to history like “Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus: The Triumphant Palace of the Caesars Restored” and “The Visit to the Tomb” of the past and the contemporary to British events Turner managed to paint for “Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London” on October 30, 1841 of the night fire almost similar to “Venice at Sunrise” and just as effective. And he even finds the time to find atmospheric serenity in painting one of his favourite childhood places in the pastel-laden and minimalist “Norham Castle, Sunrise.”

It’s easy to understand the title behind Painting Set Free in seeing the voracity of Turner’s final works that he managed to keep going with well into his seventies and enduring all the elements and rigours of travelling around mainland Europe and England as a restless, creative soul as the exhibit leaves nothing undone about the man and his passions of the world he saw.