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Creative arts and dance classes

Soul Play Studios is a new studio offering a wide range of classes for kids and adults in the Callbe [ ... ]

Rotary Radio Bingo

The Rotary Club of Charlottetown's Rotary Radio Bingo is played Tuesdays at 7 pm on 95.1 FM CFCY. Fo [ ... ]

High Energy Humour


Lend Me a Tenor

Review by Jeff Green

As the curtain rose on Lend Me a Tenor, the hilarious and naughty comedic romp produced by ACT (a community theatre) for three nights last month at the Carrefour Theatre, I suddenly remembered a nugget of acting advice a veteran Newfoundland stage director once told me. “You gotta convince audiences you’re enjoying your time on stage,” I recalled her hollering. “People want to see that zeal for acting in your eyes!”

The cast of ACT’s latest production didn’t have to do much to convince me they were having a great time frolicking on stage. They marvelously bounced lines off one another, were confident and in tune with the material and had great onstage chemistry. I particularly enjoyed the effortless work of Corin McFadden who played Max, the bumbling sheepish assistant to actor Paul Whelan’s character, Henry Saunders, the general manager of the Bytown Opera Society.

Tenor was written by American playwright Ken Ludwig and is his homage to one of the best—and oldest—forms of humour: the farce, a comedy in which confusion, mayhem, mistaken identity, sexual innuendo and deception are all prime ingredients. It is set in September 1934 in a hotel suite, realistically constructed by set designer Garnett Gallant, complete with Picasso and Vanity Fair painting reproductions. Saunders has hired world-famous tenor Tito Merelli, comically portrayed by Danny Maloney, to perform at a swanky fund-raiser for his Society but the star has arrived late, much to his chagrin. Before Tito can even get on stage, he erupts into a feud with his wife, wonderfully played by Barbara Rhodenhizer. The two are a stereotypical loud Italian couple who shout rather than talk. Comedic turmoil shifts into high gear when Maria, in a fit of anger, decides she has had enough of Tito’s skirt-chasing antics and walks out on him, leaving behind a good-bye note. Tito is sideswiped. “She-uh hates me-uh. I want to-uh kill myself-uh,” he mutters to Max while wallowing in his sorrows. After a series of mishaps, Tito eventually passes out and Maria’s “Dear John” letter is mistaken for his suicide note.

The Society stands to lose $50,000 in ticket sales unless they can find a way to get their “dead” singer to perform. Unwaveringly, Saunders insists the show must go on, even if it means sending in a replacement! “We could prop him up and play a record,” he cracks before persuading Max, an aspiring singer, to slip into Tito’s costume and fool the audience.

However, we soon discover that Tito is not dead, just heavily comatose. That leaves two Otellos running around the Opera House.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Bryde MacLean who gives a sweet performance as Maggie, Max’s girlfriend; Jennifer Campbell as soprano singer Diana; Rowena Stinson as Julia; Nick Whelan as the bellhop and Tony Welsh as the busboy.

The performances were not the only highlight of the show. I admired costume designer and construction co-ordinator Pam Jewell’s period clothing and lighting designer Tom Barnes put focus on the right place.

But my favourite part of the show was a high-energy montage of scenes just before the curtain fell.

In a program note, director Brenda Porter said ACT decided to stage Lend Me a Tenor to inject some laughter into our mid-winter blahs, and for that we should be grateful.

The charm of solid community theatre like this show is seeing the actors having as good of a time on stage as the audiences who left the theatre with smiles on their faces.

Signs of Intelligent Life

PEI Conservatory presents Laurie Murphy in Lily Tomlin hit show

by Jeff Green

A beaming smile stretches across Laurie Murphy’s face when she mentions her latest gig. The well-known actor, director and producer tackles the lead role—make that roles—in the one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe this month at the Charlottetown Hotel.

“I’m very excited and thrilled and nervous,” she says with a hearty laugh. “But I’m convinced I’ll have a great time.”

Veteran American actress Lily Tomlin, who has starred in everything from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” to “The West Wing,” has performed the show all over North American, winning a Tony Award for Best Actress in 1986. It was written by Jane Wagner, Tomlin’s life partner and longtime collaborator.

Murphy is the first to insist she has big shoes to fill by taking on the show, but says she’s looking forward to the project, which is being directed by Duncan McIntosh and is being produced by the PEI Conservatory. Pam Stevenson is the assistant director and producer. “The great thing is that it’s such a fantastic play,” Murphy explains. “It’s really a provocative, funny and clever show. It deals with everything from sex to relationships to life and love and death.”

“I actually saw it in San Francisco three years ago,” says Laurie. “and Lily gave such an amazing performance. If I knew I was going to be doing the show when I saw it I would have taken good notes.”

Murphy plays a total of 14 characters throughout the show, including a bag lady named Trudy and Kate, a bored socialite. She says the broad range of characters is one of the things that attracted her to the project.

Although she’s working with the directors to put the finishing touches on all the characters, Murphy says that when the curtain rises, the onus is solely on her to carry the play. She says being the only performer on stage is more exhilarating than exhausting.

“We’ve done a word-by-word analysis and I’ve done as much research as possible,” she says. “My sketch comedy experience will come in handy because I’ll have to become the character in front of the audience.”

For his part Duncan McIntosh says he’s thrilled to bring Wagner and Tomlin’s play to audiences here on PEI. McIntosh has worked with the comedy veterans in the past and calls the show “an important piece of writing.”

“It combines comedy with some really positive happy insight in a world that’s pretty cynical,” he says. “It’s really a delight and is very imagination based.”

The PEI Conservatory is also working with about 10 community-based groups to promote the play. In turn the organizations get a portion of the proceeds. “We are building partnerships with community groups to either raise their profile or help top up their coffers,” says McIntosh.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe runs April 7, 8 and 10th, as well as April 14-17 at the Charlottetown Hotel. For tickets call: 902-892-6464 or log onto: www.peiconservatory.com

Extreme Makeover

Arts Guild building in Charlottetown undergoes major renovation

by Jeff Green

Architect Ole Hammerlund from Bergmark, Guimond, Hammerlund, Jones speaking of some of the changes planned for the Arts Guild building.A provincial arts organization is promising to transform the tired-looking Arts Guild building in downtown Charlottetown into a contemporary “cultural Mecca,” better equipped to showcase Prince Edward Island artists and performers and events from across the country.

ARS LONGA Inc., a non-profit group formed in the spring of 2004 to manage the building, recently secured $800,000 in funding to remodel the Guild, which houses a performance hall, art gallery and several floors of offices. ACOA provided $600,000 while Canadian Heritage offered $200,000 for the work. There is a long list of renovations planned including the addition of a new splashy canopy entrance and marquee, upgrades to the exterior façade, plus new washrooms and a mobile stage. Work began in February and is expected to be finished by the end of this month.

VIPs at the official announcement of the renovation plans for the Arts Guild building, from left: Alan Buchanan, chair of ARS LONGA; Darrin White, executive director of the PEI Council of the Arts; Clifford Lee, Mayor of Charlottetown; Shawn Murphy, MP for Hillsborough.“We’re hoping we will have a much more accessible, adoptable and useful building to support our arts community,” says ARS LONGA chair Alan Buchanan. “We want to make it a much more versatile space for established and emerging artists.”

The bulk of the funding will go towards upgrading the “mechanical guts” of the building, such as installing new heating and cooling systems.

“This place isn’t getting any younger,” Buchanan says with a laugh. “It was probably built in the early 1950s so looking after the heat and air conditioner is a must. That will improve the habitability and hospitality of this place. Much of our money will be spent on things you won’t see right away but it will improve the functionality of the building.”

Nevertheless, Buchanan says artists are excited about the other major visible renovations, in particular to the performance hall and art gallery. Blueprints call for new dressing rooms and a green area for actors and musicians, new lights and sound equipment, a remodelled art gallery, new attractive lobby and front doors and a small outdoor plaza on Queen Street.

Buchanan says his group is eager to install the mobile stage, which will be made from either tubular aluminum or steel, and will allow the Guild to host more dance performances. The old flooring wasn’t adequate for dancers.

The designs also include turning the performance area into a black-box theatre by closing off several windows and adding a wall to cut down on ambient noise. As well, the box office will move from the Richmond Street entrance to the front of the building and there are plans to add a gift shop or café in the near future.

Buchanan says the renovations will allow the centre to better accommodate more events year-round.

“There is a new recognition that the arts are valuable economic drivers so there is new business legitimacy to the arts,” he says with a wide smile. “But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that art has intrinsic value as well. Arts and culture say a lot about what we believe in.”

Well-known architect Ole Hammarlund is also hoping to say a lot with the renovations. He and construction manager Ian MacLeod have the task of designing the blueprints and overseeing the remodeling.

Hammarlund says he wants to give the arts venue an updated and “more dynamic look.” He says the biggest challenge architecturally is trying to open up the entrance area along Queen Street.

“We are squeezed in there with quite a narrow sidewalk, some existing parking spaces, and a few trees almost right in front of the door. I want to open things up a bit. The entry is tight and we have those black doors which always close in your face,” he says. “From the outside things will look different.”

Hammarlund says the renovations committee want to make a statement with the funding they have available.

“This building has a boxed feeling to it,” he says. “With a multi-purpose space you always try to do as much as you can. We’re making this a place where people have fun inside. This place is very important to the arts community.”

That sentiment is echoed by Darrin White, executive director of the Prince Edward Island Council of the Arts, who insists the Arts Guild building is a vital alternative to places such as the Confederation Centre and Mackenzie Theatre. He says the renovations will help attract new customers and artists such as independent productions, indie films and theatre.

“I believe that theatre, music and dance will benefit from an updated facility in terms of equipment and a truer black-box theatre as well as better and more inviting spaces for the public,” he says. “Visual artists can benefit from these same features as well as an expanded and updated gallery space.”

ARS LONGA wants all renovations completed by the end of the month. The first major performance in the new hall will be Kathleen Hamilton’s play Marion Bridge, set for early May. Buchanan says he’s encouraged by the feedback his group has gotten so far from the arts community and is confident the changes will breath new life into the building.

“This is a small community but it’s rich in appreciation of our culture, heritage and arts. I think these changes provide the groundwork to get much greater value out of this building,” Buchanan says. “I think it’ll be a real showcase and jewel for our arts here on PEI.”

Extreme Makeover

Arts Guild building in Charlottetown undergoes major renovation

by Jeff Green

VIPs at the official announcement of the renovation plans for the Arts Guild building, from left: Alan Buchanan, chair of ARS LONGA; Darrin White, executive director of the PEI Council of the Arts; Clifford Lee, Mayor of Charlottetown; Shawn Murphy, MP for Hillsborough.

Architect Ole Hammerlund from Bergmark, Guimond, Hammerlund, Jones speaking of some of the changes planned for the Arts Guild building

A provincial arts organization is promising to transform the tired-looking Arts Guild building in downtown Charlottetown into a contemporary “cultural Mecca,” better equipped to showcase Prince Edward Island artists and performers and events from across the country.

ARS LONGA Inc., a non-profit group formed in the spring of 2004 to manage the building, recently secured $800,000 in funding to remodel the Guild, which houses a performance hall, art gallery and several floors of offices. ACOA provided $600,000 while Canadian Heritage offered $200,000 for the work. There is a long list of renovations planned including the addition of a new splashy canopy entrance and marquee, upgrades to the exterior façade, plus new washrooms and a mobile stage. Work began in February and is expected to be finished by the end of this month.

“We’re hoping we will have a much more accessible, adoptable and useful building to support our arts community,” says ARS LONGA chair Alan Buchanan. “We want to make it a much more versatile space for established and emerging artists.”

The bulk of the funding will go towards upgrading the “mechanical guts” of the building, such as installing new heating and cooling systems.

“This place isn’t getting any younger,” Buchanan says with a laugh. “It was probably built in the early 1950s so looking after the heat and air conditioner is a must. That will improve the habitability and hospitality of this place. Much of our money will be spent on things you won’t see right away but it will improve the functionality of the building.”

Nevertheless, Buchanan says artists are excited about the other major visible renovations, in particular to the performance hall and art gallery. Blueprints call for new dressing rooms and a green area for actors and musicians, new lights and sound equipment, a remodelled art gallery, new attractive lobby and front doors and a small outdoor plaza on Queen Street.

Buchanan says his group is eager to install the mobile stage, which will be made from either tubular aluminum or steel, and will allow the Guild to host more dance performances. The old flooring wasn’t adequate for dancers.

The designs also include turning the performance area into a black-box theatre by closing off several windows and adding a wall to cut down on ambient noise. As well, the box office will move from the Richmond Street entrance to the front of the building and there are plans to add a gift shop or café in the near future.

Buchanan says the renovations will allow the centre to better accommodate more events year-round.

“There is a new recognition that the arts are valuable economic drivers so there is new business legitimacy to the arts,” he says with a wide smile. “But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that art has intrinsic value as well. Arts and culture say a lot about what we believe in.”

Well-known architect Ole Hammarlund is also hoping to say a lot with the renovations. He and construction manager Ian MacLeod have the task of designing the blueprints and overseeing the remodeling.

Hammarlund says he wants to give the arts venue an updated and “more dynamic look.” He says the biggest challenge architecturally is trying to open up the entrance area along Queen Street.

“We are squeezed in there with quite a narrow sidewalk, some existing parking spaces, and a few trees almost right in front of the door. I want to open things up a bit. The entry is tight and we have those black doors which always close in your face,” he says. “From the outside things will look different.”

Hammarlund says the renovations committee want to make a statement with the funding they have available.

“This building has a boxed feeling to it,” he says. “With a multi-purpose space you always try to do as much as you can. We’re making this a place where people have fun inside. This place is very important to the arts community.”

That sentiment is echoed by Darrin White, executive director of the Prince Edward Island Council of the Arts, who insists the Arts Guild building is a vital alternative to places such as the Confederation Centre and Mackenzie Theatre. He says the renovations will help attract new customers and artists such as independent productions, indie films and theatre.

“I believe that theatre, music and dance will benefit from an updated facility in terms of equipment and a truer black-box theatre as well as better and more inviting spaces for the public,” he says. “Visual artists can benefit from these same features as well as an expanded and updated gallery space.”

ARS LONGA wants all renovations completed by the end of the month. The first major performance in the new hall will be Kathleen Hamilton’s play Marion Bridge, set for early May. Buchanan says he’s encouraged by the feedback his group has gotten so far from the arts community and is confident the changes will breath new life into the building.

“This is a small community but it’s rich in appreciation of our culture, heritage and arts. I think these changes provide the groundwork to get much greater value out of this building,” Buchanan says. “I think it’ll be a real showcase and jewel for our arts here on PEI.”

To view photos of the renovations to the Arts Guild building log onto: www.isn.net/~arslonga/photos.html

An Artisan’s Plans


Rachel Ballem carves out a living with her unique pottery

by Jeff Green

Rachel BallemRachel Ballem covers her face when she admits that her career runs her life. But it’s a good thing she pleads. The self-taught potter and sculptor says that she is so absorbed by her art that it’s not uncommon for her to fling out of bed in the middle of the night just to jot down a few ideas for her latest pieces. Ballem is so devoted to her work she’s turned her Miscouche home into a makeshift studio.

“It basically takes up my whole home. I throw pottery in the kitchen, I sculpt in my living room and my kiln is in the porch. It’s madness,” she says with smile. “It’s a house during the day and a studio at night.”

Add to the mix two young children, ages four and five, plus the fact that Ballem, 30, is her own “accountant and manufacturer,” producing hundreds of dollars worth of products each day for her business, The Castle’s Mantle, and you’ve got one busy life. “It’s hectic,” she says. “Right now I’m making inventory for next year’s tourism season.”

Ballem has carved out quite a niche for herself in the PEI arts scene, most notably as the architect of clay gargoyles, oddly shaped yet lovable creatures she conjures up from her own imagination. They come in all sorts of sizes—ranging from six to 12 inches in height—and are found in shops across Prince Edward Island. Her products also include clay pots, vases, mugs, bowls and Christmas ornaments, each usually adorned with mythical characters like her gargoyles, as well as dragons and griffins. They range in price from $6 to $350.

An avid “doodler” while growing up, Ballem was always drawn to medieval and gothic characters and ancient castles. She had an active imagination and still uses it to when she creates her artwork. “In particular with the dragons and the gargoyles,” she explains. “They all come from me. There is no blueprint.”

In 1997, she and fellow artist Candy Gallant launched their own business, Sweet and Sour Gargoyles. “We learnt a lot,” says Ballem, “but after a few years we just went our separate ways and I had kids. We’re still great friends and we feed off each other and exchange ideas.”

Ballem relaunched her career in 2003 by starting up The Castle’s Mantle. Since she was busy raising her kids, she devised a two-year “personal and professional” plan to make sure she could handle the perils of running a business while being a mom. Currently Ballem is two years ahead of her schedule. She produces $200-$600 worth of sculptures and pottery a day for her stock pile.

“Running your own business and being an artist is a lot of corny things,” she adds. “It’s perseverance, believing in yourself and not listening to the negatives and going with the positives. It’s all those things.”

We Need You

Scottish marching band engaged in recruitment drive

by Jeff Green

The Belfast Pipe and Drum Band during the 2004 Gold Cup & Saucer parade.One of Prince Edward Island’s hardest working—and cherished—bands is in the midst of a “big time” recruitment drive this fall, trying to attract new musicians while planning for another busy performance season. The Belfast Pipe and Drum Band, which was initially formed in the early 1970s and went through several reincarnations, regrouped three years with new members. Now, under new management and with new energy and a growing repertoire of music, the band is trying to branch out, increase its size and participate in more competitions and events. In fact, the group, which is the only adult pipe and drum band in the province, is coming off one of its busiest summers ever. Members played at festivals and private events all over PEI and are now practising at weekly meetings and getting eager to start performing again.

“We’re now in recruitment stage,” says band manager Janet Cox. “We desperately need drummers. They're hard to get. We had a few really good ones leave in the past year. This year we're also hoping to take in four or five new pipers, too.”

The roots of the Belfast Band stretch back more than three decades to 1973 when it was primarily made up of school students. That original group broke up several years later. Some musicians tried to re-establish the ensemble in 1990 but it faded again. Three years ago, several female pipers breathed new life into the respected troupe. As it turns out, third time was lucky, says Cox.

“A group of us got together and we started talking about getting a band going,” she says. “We just started to dream basically. We played a few tunes at this event. There were about six players then. Since then we’ve grown to include about 22 or 23 players.”

Cox says one of the attractions for her to joining the band was a chance to play with pipers from all over the province. The group is made up of members from Belfast to western PEI. It’s also one of the most dynamic groups with members ranging in age from 18 to 70.

Drummers and pipers have to be able to play their music by memory since they can't carry music sheets. “You have to know your tunes by heart,” adds Cox with a smile. “That’s the hardest part.” So far the group can play about 30 tunes but they’re hoping to expand that list this year.

The biggest challenge, however, for the band is trying to cover travel expenses, instruments and uniforms, says veteran drummer David Doyle. Pipes can cost anywhere from $1,500-$9,000, while drums range from $200-$1,000. Uniforms are about $1,500 apiece.

“We’re basically non-profit and all volunteers,” says Doyle. “So members pay their way. We do get paid but it goes right back into the band. If the event has a commercial overtone we insist on getting paid. But if the legion or veterans ask us we don’t charge them.”

Doyle thinks the current group will have much more longevity than its predecessors. “It’s a hobby, a pleasure and a job for us,” he insists. “Once you’re committed to this you’re committed all the way. It’s hard on our members and their families but god love them so far. I think they’re in it for the long run.”

I Want to Play Guitar


Guitar teachers are busy this fall

by Jeff Green

Guitar instructor Chad Deagle (right) teaches at Sobers School of Music in Charlottetown.Dozens of budding musicians from the Charlottetown region are strumming new tunes on one of the world’s oldest instruments this fall, emulating their pop icons and songs downloaded from the Internet. Guitar lessons are the hottest trend in the city right now. So big, in fact, the majority of businesses offering private and group sessions will soon be booked solid for the next few months. It’s all part of what one instructor calls the “MuchMusic” rave. Eager students are pouring into M.J. Mullin’s PEI School of Guitar to learn the songs they’re hearing on speciality TV channels and radio shows. Mullin says he’s seen a steady line up of customers this fall—mostly from junior and high school students—wanting to learn the chords to their favourite songs.

“Once kids take an interest in radio and popular culture they get hooked,” says Mullin, who has run the School for the past 11 years. “They want to get involved in music and they want to play their songs. Guitar is big this season.”

And, he isn’t joking. It’s hard to get lessons this year since there’s such a huge demand from the students. But they’re not just learning rock and pop songs. They’re also taking an interest in country, folk, classic, jazz, blues and flamenco. “We’ve very busy, which is good,” says Mullin, who says students also want to learn electric bass, too.

Mullin isn’t the only one who’s “pleasantly surprised” by the surge in interest. “Guitars have always been our biggest seller and are hugely popular,” says Judy Lowe, owner and operator of National Music, which offers guitar lessons for children as young as 7 years-old. “It’s great to get students involved at that young age because it’s when a child’s attention is good and their motor skills are growing,” she says.

Although the instruments can run anywhere from roughly $199 to $1,200 and higher, students have a desire to duplicate the songs they love. Plus, guitars are a staple in most bands and it’s easy to find great sheet music. “In those terms the guitar is a very accessible instrument,” says Rob Drew, owner of Fretworks Guitar Studio. “It’s kind of all pervasive and ubiquitous and has a very personal sound.”

But Drew says it’s not just young people taking up lessons. He’s taught everyone from 6-year-olds to a 75-year-old retiree looking to fill up his days with a hobby to a paraplegic. “It’s great to see anybody take the first step and fall in love with this instrument no matter what their age. People take it up for personal reasons and artistic development.”

Guitar lessons—and other classes like piano and violin—are catching on so quickly it has forced one of Charlottetown’s best known music shops to expand its storage, studios and theatre space. Sobers Music teaches guitar in group sessions for people of all ages and has a special teen guitar group this season. “This year we’ll have anywhere from 200 to 500 students come through here and the majority want to learn guitar. But we do offer other classes like violin and piano,” owner David MacDonald. “I think students like the portability of the guitar and it’s not too hard to learn its music.”

MacDonald admits a large number of his customers taking guitar lessons are “young up-and-comers” who are very serious about music. “We encourage parents to get their kids involved early in all types of music,” adds Sober’s school administrator Maggie Clarkin. “It’s like learning a second language. You have to start young to develop knowledge of pitch, tone and rhythm.”

MacDonald predicts the obsession with guitar won’t go away any time soon, despite an abundance of other instrument lessons available in the Charlottetown region. “Guitar is huge and hot this year,” he says. “I get joy out of seeing people—no matter their age or instrument—succeed with their musical experiences.”

Events Calendar

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Some Upcoming Events

Forage PEI

First annual food industry symposium in Charlottetown October 18 & 19
Various locations A new a [ ... ]

Pink Floyd tribute at Harbourfront

November 2
Harbourfront Theatre PIGS: Canada’s Pink Floyd will come to Harbourfront Theatre in Sum [ ... ]

Support the Girls

September 18–22
City Cinema 14A, coarse language, nudity
Dir: Andrew Bujalski, US, 90 min. Regina H [ ... ]

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Charlottetown’s Historic Squares exhibit...

The City of Charlottetown Planning and Heritage Department has created an exhibit exploring the hist [ ... ]