Tuesday, December 04, 2007


As told by Esther Jun

Sunday, November 25, 2007

So with minor hiccups we have arrived and settled into Niagara on the Lake!

Jovanni Sy and Wendy Lee picked up me, Tara Beagan and Nina Lee-Aquino at Factory theatre and we headed off on a lovely crisp clear day. The ride was fairly quick with lots of talk of the theatre going on in Toronto. It even inspired Jovanni to put on the Sweeney Todd soundtrack, which was Tara’s favorite moment no doubt. After a quick detour over an unknown bridge and a trip to Shoppers for supplies we arrived at the main house. It’s a bit creaky and very old, but it has a certain charm. We then all headed out to check out Nina’s place (which is very cute complete with piano), than Tara’s (a bit far from Shaw but more modern with working heat!) We went back to the main house to get Jo’s keys and do some grocery shopping. I suddenly felt extremely ill and puked on the front steps of the house! Yeah Esther! Welcome to Shaw! So I stayed behind and tried to feel better. The house was freezing and I was woozy. When Wendy came back we tried to watch some TV but we have no cable (damn, but probably useful). Wendy and I had fun trying to get a good picture with the bunny ears and watched Family Guy. Dave the caterer came and set up the food. Slowly the house was warming up and becoming quite cozy. Jo, Nina and then Tara arrived and we had out first gourmet meal together. Procsuitto and hearts of palm, rare beef on crostini appetizers, roast pork loin with pear jus, roasted fall veggies and a harvest fruit pie we barely crammed in. If this continues, we shall all be quite fat. It was a great evening just getting to hang out and meet people. Nina’s heat was not working, poor thing, and she just played the piano in her “salon” for heat. Marjorie Chan and Ruth Madoc-Jones were to arrive at around 10:30pm, but were denied access to the bus twice, even though they had tickets. People going to NYC had priority. So they decided to try the morning bus.

Monday, November 26, 2007

In the morning Wendy went to pick up Ruth at the bus station but no Marjorie as she had slept in. At 10am we meet at the Stage door and had a quick tour with Jerry. Wendy had to leave and get Marjorie in Toronto as she was denied access AGAIN, due to lack of receipts?!!! Marjorie was livid with the lack of customer service and rightly so!

At Shaw we had our laptops set up for wireless and then we all parted ways. I have a lot of reading to do for Jovanni. I am helping him to do research for his new play about food and where it comes from. Plus, I will be a sounding board for his ideas- he likened me to a psychiatrist, without offering advice. It is such early days he just wants to get the ideas to the page I think.

Shaw green room is the only place most of us have access to internet unfortunately (except Marjorie and Ruth who have somehow lucked out with free Wi-Fi!) and I hate lugging this laptop around.

Did a quick peek into some shops and found a nice variety of British food stuff. There is also tons of touristy stuff to look at. Perhaps I can get some Christmas shopping done!

Everyone arrived at the main house at 6:30pm a little soggy from a downpour. We had lovely bruschetta in the living room caught up on things. Moved into the dining room and feasted on Asian coleslaw, sea bass and stir fried veggies. It was delicious. We had fun scaring Nina about our ghost stories and started a wonderful conversation on the “Canadian” theatre model and is it outdated? Is there distinctly “Canadian Theatre?” I say yes to both points. We moved to amazing chocolate mousse and then into the living room, where we talked about TnT, the Rockettes and all sorts of silliness. It was a really lovely evening and everyone left quite full and in good spirits.

Tuesday, November 27

I had a rough night sleeping due to spooking myself out about this very old house. I finally gave up around 9am and got up. Enjoyed my new Greaves jams and finished reading one book for Jo. I went out for a walk to enjoy the cold sunshine and see the sights. Niagara-on-the-Lake is beautiful! The houses that back onto the lake are truly picturesque. Meeting with Jo cancelled. He was out for a walk and I think he was in a good place and wanted to roll with it. Went to theatre to do some photocopying of readings for Jo and check emails. Talked with Nina about theatre, women and children. It was a very touching conversation and has convinced me that women are still dealing with a lot of prejudices in this industry- and not just from male counterparts. Women have made great progress but there is still a long way to go to achieve equality. I went back home to do more reading. I am starting to feel the need to get out and create my work anyway I can. I am surrounded by these amazing artists and feel inspired to start creating something!

Dinner was lovely again even though we were down one as Nina has left for a few days. Chicken Cacciatore, which David insisted was curry, an eggplant Parmigiano, couscous, and pecan pie. It was a funny evening as we discussed crazy TV shows, but Marjorie’s “Meerkat Mansion” won hands down for the most ridiculous yet sublime. You could tell writing mode had kicked in for everyone as most people headed out early to get back to work. Tara seemed to be in “the zone” and said she feels pressure as she is now very close to the family of the subject she is writing. She feels obligated to them to do a good job. Ruth stayed for the finale of “Dancing with the Stars,” or tried to, but it was so dragged out and was OTT, that she decided to go home after an hour. We had fun though dreaming of swirling skirts.

Wednesday, November 28

Had another rough night trying to sleep. I think it is the absolute silence that is scaring me. It seems “heavy” with history and I am freaking myself out with mind games.

Finished the third book and went to Shaw to photocopy it all for Jovanni. We meet up there and went to the Prince of Wales Hotel for afternoon tea. It was delightful and decadent considering how well we have been eating. We talked about my notes and then talked about food for 2 hours! I went back to Jovanni’s and picked up more books(!) and then back to Shaw where I caught up on emails. Back at the house I decided enough of food and read an old script of Madness in the Square. I am looking very forward to hearing a reading!

Dave arrived with the food and stayed for a drink. He is a very interesting man…More talk about food and Las Vegas. We talked about The Drawer Boy, and how Michael Healy stepped in for the free show. We were all disappointed to have missed a special moment of what is sure to be Canadian Theatre history. When he left we moved to dining room and had veggie lasagna with Caesar salad. Just the right proportions this time! Talk turned to sports and Jo seemed quite glad to some more “manly” conversation. We also discussed Ruth’s time working the night shift with stolen buses and Marjorie’s days at Madison Square Gardens and the ACC. For dessert we stayed in the dining room and had baked apples with nuts and raisins that I simply had no room for.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I’m back from Toronto! Lots of snow made life a little difficult but finally made it. Met Michael Rubenfeld, Tara’s boyfriend who is really nice and adds a new energy to the group. Leanne, Jovanni’s wife, and Richard and Eponine were also part of the group. I think everyone was really excited our scheduled field trip and a break from the writing. Marjorie, however, decided to keep working. Nina as well wanted to continue to write but Shaw was closed so she decided to join us.

We started off to Chateau des Charmes winery with Nina and family following behind in their car. The place is a bit more secluded than the other wineries and housed in a very big stone mansion. The tour was informative and fun. We had lots of fun sampling different Rieslings and bought quite a few bottles. I think everyone was slightly buzzed from the wine and it was nice not be talking “shop.” After a few circles (basically Jovanni thinking he was going the wrong way but not) on the road we made our way to the chocolate place. Not really a factory or a tour but they talked a little about how they coat everything and anything in chocolate and offered us alot of samples. We were all quite high on sugar after awhile. We made our way back to town and everyone took a little siesta. Back for dinner which seemed a little quiet. Leanne was sick unfortunately, and Wendy went off to pick up Michaela, so there were less people. I’m sure everyone also had had a sugar crash. Eponine as always was our main entertainment. How can someone be so cute??!! She and Michael have a new show they want to take on the road called “Eponine and the Jewish Actor.” Michael and Tara waited for Michaela’s arrival and we watched TV. When Wendy returned with Michaela we all sat around and watched Desperate Housewives.

I really envy everyone’s close working relationships. They all seem to be quite comfortable with each other’s process.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Today is grey and windy! That makes only one day of sun here, but it is a lot warmer than Toronto.

Lots of problems with the internet at Shaw, so after running some errands with Wendy, most importantly picking up booze for the next week (and armed with my new wine knowledge), I have settled at the Irish Harp, enjoying Guinness in front of the fire. I have learned that Jovanni is a bit frustrated with his progress. I have recommended scotch and the fireplace. He has said though, he works better under pressure, so with 2 days till a public reading he should be quite prolific the next little while!

Dinner was quite nice with lots of people. Everyone seems to have made progress with their pieces and seemed to be happy with where they are. Ruth and Marjorie are busy preparing for the arrival of actors tomorrow and Tara and Michaela were in the rehearsal room today.

We had black bean chicken, egg foo young and vegetable fried rice. It was all very tasty, although not quite Chinese. The best though was the apricot bread pudding. A bit soggy for some, but how can you go wrong with milk soaked sweet bread? Yum-yum

Most people went early as there is a lot to prepare for; I waited for the actors to arrive. Nina decided to spend the night, to stave off the cold and haunted spirits. The actors arrived safely and in good spirits. They had lots of questions and a great energy. I can see the next couple of days will be lots of fun and good for the playwrights to get out of their heads and see their work come to life.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

There seems to be excitement in the air. By the time I reached Shaw I ran into Jovanni who seemed to have made some progress. He was in the library and decided to do away with video and to keep things very simple. He seemed a little less stressed then yesterday. Down in the green room I met Michael who was on his computer. The Madness of the Square people were about to do lunch they seemed to be quite happy and excited to be here. Marjorie and Ruth also seemed energized having actors to work with. Wendy was running around doing a gazillion little things for tomorrow. We also discussed the set-up for the green room. Tara, Michaela and their sound designer Andy Moro, who just came up for the day came into the green room for lunch as well and they too also seemed in good spirits.

After lunch and lots of photocopying for me, I snuck into the rehearsal rooms to take some pictures with the digital camera that hates me. Marjorie and Ruth were doing table work with everyone, discussing the events of the play. Tara, Michaela and Andy were doing the same talking more about structure I think.

Nina was back in the green room working away. She seems to be on a roll right now and enjoying herself.

Later Wendy had to take Andy to the train station so I set up for the big dinner. John Ng came over quite early so we sat around and chatted.

Soon everyone arrived and it seemed a little like a family reunion, it was a very full house! There was a spinach dip for appetizers which disappeared quickly. For dinner we had pork in a vindaloo sauce, rice, cucumber salad, an amazing mango chutney and coconut rice pudding. It was pretty tasty! Most people were in the living room, but myself, Marjorie, Keira, Jovanni and later Ruth sat in the dining room and discussed Keira’s new job at Stratford. The topic moved on to the model of new playwriting. Marjorie, though used to the model, feels perhaps having a workshop with actors for only one day and then doing a public read may not be the most effective thing for a playwright. Having more time with actors, for example to work through the text and then read each scene, would be more beneficial as opposed to her just trying to fix things in time for the public. Keira mentioned how at Stratford they are working to develop a better model and how they were defining exactly what a reading, workshop, and commissions are. They also discussed how to get the audience more involved in new play development. Keira mentioned the Raw Raw festival at CanStage being a useful model for her and how she enjoyed it.

Overall, there was lots of good conversation, fun, laughter and satiated theatre artists by the end of the evening. Most of the writers went home early, while the actors stayed around a little longer and chatted. I don’t think they could actually move. There was a real sense of community and anticipation in the air.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The big day went off very smoothly with the exception of some bad traffic for our poor Toronto counterparts. I was in rehearsal with the Madness of the Square cast most of the day, as I was reading stage directions. I don’t mind reading stage directions as it is pretty important for a reading and as Ruth said, a bad reading of stage directions could ruin things. Maybe she was just trying to make me feel useful! It was unfortunate that we did not have more time. After lunch, we only had an hour and a half which we basically used just to get through the stage directions. I think it would have been much more useful to the actors and Ruth if they could have gotten another reading of each scene in. Which goes to what Marjorie said yesterday about this model of play development. And why is it, for all the money in the world and beautiful facilities are rehearsal rooms still freezing cold?

Either way, the reading went quite well. We had some Shaw membership people who I saw during the reading and they seemed very enthralled. We did have to postpone the start for about 20mins waiting for the Toronto people. They still had not made it by the time we started however, and they sheepishly snuck in about half way through. Traffic!! Hamilton!! Argh!!

We moved into the green room afterwards for appetizers and drinks. After many kudos and congratulations, most of the Shaw people left except Jerry and Joanna. We also had Ann-Marie from Magnetic North, Andy McKim and Marc Bendavid. There of course were the Cahoots office crew and all the actors. It was great. The food was really delicious. It was a Thai theme with green curry, pad thai and stir fry, and I was very impressed, although David once again was a little weird. He seems to have a vendetta against vegans…Dessert was flambĂ© bananas in the sweetest sauce I have every tasted.

Jovanni got up and read his work on “Taste of Empire.” I think he used his model from the Dim-Sum festival but it was much more researched and fleshed out. It was very funny and engaging. We all really enjoyed it, especially the part were he postulated what if the east had taken over the world as opposed to the west. As the crowd was 90% Asian, it went down well. It took forever to move people out as they were having a great time, Tara recommended going to The Irish Harp for post drinks which I valiantly tried to get people to do. We finally just left as the Cahoots crew ended up having a bit of a meeting. At the Irish Harp we just sat around recovering from the long day and once again full bellies. It’s not done yet though. I am looking really forward to Quilchena….

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Today seemed so much relaxed since the big showing was over. After lazing about I went to Shaw to return some books I had taken from their library. I read some shorts by Shaw and found a few that I really like and am considering for Summerworks or Fringe. I sat in on a little of the rehearsals for Quilchena. I marvel at Michaela and Tara’s abilities and obvious connection as artists. Tara is very soft spoken but very clear and precise with her direction. Michaela just has amazing instincts. I really cannot wait to hear this piece! Jovanni was just observing. I am starting to realize dramaturgy is really whatever you can offer to the writer to help out and I think everyone works differently. Andy joined later in the afternoon and was just in rehearsal doing his own thing, asking or showing things to Tara as he went along (or so it seemed). They all seemed so very comfortable with each other. I think having your designer in there as much as possible is a great idea. They all seemed to be in synch with each other.

At 3:30pm everyone else met up in the green room for our American shopping trip. Flannery, Ruth, Marjorie, Jovanni, Wendy and myself piled into the minivan while Nina and family led the way in their car. At the border, there was no line-up. We waited maybe 5 mins. Jovanni moved one stop sign too close to Richard’s car however, and the border guard went a bit nuts. He started screaming at us to move back. Richard said he had his hand on his firearm! It was a little scary and we were a bit terrified as we pulled up to him. He asked us lots of questions but we made it through. Sheesh! Power-trip…Richard who was in front of us, said when the guard starting yelling the look on Jovanni’s face was priceless. He had trouble not laughing. Luckily, with the ever adorable Eponine in the back of their car, the guard calmed down.

We hit the outlet mall very shortly after. We entered the monstrosity tentatively. Richard and Nina wasted no time getting to business. The rest of us had a snack at Wimpy’s Burgers. Then we all headed off in different directions. It was quite large but I bumped into random people at different intervals. I was not too impressed with stores or the prices. Except at the Umbra store which had insane doorcrashers and deals. I had given everyone permission to hit me if I tried to buy shoes. Luckily violence was not necessary as I avoided the shoes stores at all costs.

After an hour and half I went back to the meeting place. It took forever to get everyone back- at least an hour as people went off again to shop. I ended up getting my ass kicked on Jovanni’s new travel scrabble board. He is a serious player, and well, my first word was “one.” You can imagine how fast downhill it went from there. Everyone got some good stuff without spending too much money. Marjorie won the prize for most spent, but only cuz she bought a gorgeous new leather bag.

Next on the list was to find a bar with good buffalo wings. We got directions from this store called “Lids” on this great bar called Judy’s. Turns out the bar was ACROSS the street from the mall yet we went about 15 mins out until Richard stopped and asked someone for directions. Sigh!

The bar was quite the experience. When we walked in EVERYONE there just stared at us. Evidently, a large group of Asian people is a rarity. We settled near the back and ordered a great deal of unhealthy bar food. It was pretty tasty, in that not healthy way. One couple walked into the bar from the back and I could see this gentlemen just staring at us. He came back a few minutes later and said “WOW, you never see this many Asians here! Where are you guys from. I mean your heritages?” We were a bit flabbergasted as this is the second time on this trip someone has asked us this. We tried to be polite but no one was really saying anything. He finally left, I think a bit miffed at us but oh well!! We enjoyed clogging our arteries immensely and it was ridiculously cheap. When we walked out, it was unbelievable how everyone stared HARD at us. There were more people at that time, and it was like we were aliens. I shake my head…

The border crossing back was easy, although Nina and Richard had a little duty to pay. We took the scenic way back from Niagara Falls and it was stunning, with giant old houses and huge trees lining the way. It was a great day. I had a sense of family.