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Mingling with the Movie Stars

Toronto Film Festival

by Lyndsay Kyte

Who was that skinny girl?TIFF: the nickname of 40 percent of grade five girls and the acronym of the biggest film festival in North America. The Toronto International Film Festival took place September 8­17, 2005 at various venues across Toronto. It was a chance to take in some of the 335 films from 52 countries, wait in line-ups longer than those in the airport at Christmas and to see Johnny Depp breathe real, live oxygen. And get hit by a car trying to do so.

Tickets ranged from about $32 to $18, a hefty price tag for most poor starving artists. So the choices to see films remained to try to sneak in (pretty much impossible) or usher at one of the theatres. I chose the latter, ushering at the Elgin Theatres where I got to eyeball stars, wear a vest much too big for me and laugh at the behavior of TIFF patrons sophisticated and so not.

My best advice for future patrons is that stars will always sit about six rows up from the front and will probably not want to sign autographs while trying to get up on the stage. A lot of stars who want to watch films and not have their clothes drooled on will sneak in, as did Kirsten Dunst, to whom I offered a program. As she politely declined, I thought, “Where do I know that skinny girl from? Does she work at Starbucks?” About six seconds later I realized where I saw her—Spiderman. (People magazine ran a gossip snippet this month about how neither Kirsten Dunst nor Jake Gyllenhaal, who are dating, were at each others’ premieres at the Toronto Film Festival. That is half wrong—Kirsten was indeed there at Jake’s premiere, and sat off on the sidelines so as not to be noticed. I guess The Buzz has scooped People with our Hollywood gossip.)

Though I didn’t get to see all of the stars, reports from other ushers were as such: “Johnny Depp was so gracious. He signed every autograph he could. He actually seemed shy.” “I had to take Tim Burton up in the heritage elevator. Creepy!” “Morgan Freeman was doing Justin Timberlake impressions backstage.” And “Steve Martin is just a guy. Like just a regular guy. He was asking me about my life!”

Some of the films I saw were Capote with Phillip Seymour Hoffman (great), Tideland with a wonderful young actress named Jodelle Ferland (film was odd and unpleasant) Sketches of Frank Gehry, a doc about the life of architect Frank Gehry (inspiring), Bee Season with Richard Gere (interesting), Shopgirl with Steve Martin and Claire Danes (go see it) and an independent film with a stellar cast including Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney called The Squid and the Whale. I termed it “the squirm and the wail” as I stood (ushers can’t sit) through its lame story, writer-heavy dialogue and one-dimensional portrayals of characters. Though I didn’t see the film, I witnessed a number of audience members leave the Justin Timberlake/ Morgan Freeman production called Edison. Some even yelled at me because they hated it so much. As this was not fun, I got TIFF officials to whom they could complain. This was more fun. I overheard it was “too violent” “diminished the class of TIFF” and “Morgan Freeman should be ashamed.” All of the complainers were over fifty and dressed like they were out to see some “art,” so that may have been a factor. Or maybe the movie was just really, really bad.

Some of the more interesting moments for me were witnessing the patrons, who ranged from wild-haired, legwarmer-sporting artsy types to opera-glass toting, scarf wearing people who only laugh when CBC announcers make a funny. Yet all of these people, no matter what their outfits, would fight TIFF volunteers to the death if they were passed over for the free potato chips that VISA provided. Also, as mentioned above, some Johnny Depp fans who were banished to the other side of Yonge Street when Johnny arrived decided to dash across to proclaim their love. Many were beaned by rush hour traffic, but none were seriously hurt. TIFF hired more staff and Johnny was rushed inside the theatre as a result.

What I learned from ushering at TIFF was most stars are pretty nice people who just don’t want their clothes torn, if you are blocking a closed-off staircase and are five feet tall, people think they can take you, and just because a film has Morgan Freeman doesn’t mean it will get Oscar gold. Maybe one bad Justin can spoil a whole film full of Freeman.

Hot Stuff

NXNE Music and Film Festival

by Lindsay Kyte

North by Northeast Music and Film Festival 2005, held in venues across Toronto June 7­12, began with self-important “volun-sneers” begrudgingly handing out media kits in bags that smelled like a new plastic pencil case from Bi-Way. Luckily, their “I’m in a purple shirt and who are you?” attitudes were no indication of what was to be a joyous, laidback celebration of Canadian independent music.

The Black Bull featured PEI’s The Little Pilgrims on June 10. Lead singer Dennis Ellsworth summed up the atmosphere of the night quite exquisitely in the phrase, “Fuck the jacket!” In the sweltering humidity of Toronto where you often feel like you live in a Ziploc container, bands and fans alike were dressed in as little as possible, drinking as much as possible and caring about anything but enjoying the music even less. The Pilgrims were private school chic in ties and short-sleeve button shirts, albeit sans jacket (see comment above). Their countrified-folky-rock sound had heads bobbing all over the Bull like it was Night at the Roxbury.

The next stop was the Horseshoe Tavern, where PEI’s Two Hours Traffic was playing. It was a little less jam-packed, but the crowd was every bit as appreciative of the smooth, catchy sounds of what one fan stated was “PEI’s answer to the Gin Blossoms.”

A trek up the street brought me to the Rivoli, where The Ladies and Gentlemen played resplendent in head to toe white garb reminiscent of the Glad Garbage Bag Man. This crowd was dancing its feet off, unmindful of the 30 degree humidity, a testament to this band’s funky, playful and engaging stage presence.

Because I may be a bit of a pyro, fire brought me racing back to the Black Bull where the action was not on stage, but outside. For the second year in a row, White Cowbell Oklahoma, who were not featured in NXNE 2005, performed on their very own flatbed truck and parked in front of patios all over Toronto. In order to get attention away from the stage and onto the truck, Cowbell started their act by featuring female fire twirlers in little tank tops and cowboy hats. The outfits were to attract the male quotient of the audience; the females were drawn by the thwarted majorette dream every girl still harbors in her heart of hearts.

As the truck pulled away, I strolled down to the Fox and the Fiddle where Toronto’s Chris Seldon was playing to a very sparse crowd. Here, my media kit earplugs came in handy. The room was the size of Baba’s with a sound system cranked up for a room the size of a school gymnasium. The few people braving hearing loss seemed to be close friends not concerned with eardrum blood leakage. Unfortunately, all I can say for this band is… “WHAT???”

My last stop was the Cameron House, a great intimate venue with two rooms of performance space. Playing in back was Five Blank Pages, a Mississauga band which included a female drummer and female bass player along with its male lead singer and other male various. This girl could groove on those drums and that girl could groove on that bass and both had voices that were sweet perfection in harmony. However, the lead singer was like vanilla pudding—it’s okay if he’s there and we wouldn’t miss him if he’s wasn’t. Unobtrusive, generic and forgettable. It is the girls in the groove who will make this band go far.

All in all, NXNE was a fun, easy time to hear new bands without their sleazy, schmoozy agents skulking about. There was no girl without her hair tied up by the end of the night, and no guy without a beer pressed against his forehead to chase away the heat. Celebrities lurking about ranged from This is Wonderland’s Cara Pifko to Zack Werner from Canadian Idol. I doubt we’ll be seeing any of these talented musicians crooning Elton John for Sass Jordan anytime soon. NXNE featured conferences, films and lots of exposure for hot new independent Canadian bands. Hot new talent that rocked Toronto on June nights hot enough to make a cactus sweat.

More Than Mere Music

A first-hand report from Canada Music Week 2005 in Toronto

by Lindsay Kyte

Singer/songwriter Grant Tilley following his CMW 2005 seminar.Everyone at Canada Music Week 2005 (CMW) had the same shaggy ’70s style hairdo. The difference was the execs paid Sting’s hairdresser big bucks for it, and the musicians got it by choosing electricity over Magic Cuts.

CMW took place March 2 to 5 in venues all over Toronto. It involved celebrity talks (Mathew Knowles—father of Beyonce; Steve Earle), seminars teaching the ins and outs of the music and radio biz, and of course, showcases from bands all over the world. All this plus various awards ceremonies hosted by Mike Bullard for your mocking pleasure.

Perhaps the most interesting seminar I attended was called “50 Ideas in 50 Minutes.” It featured a panel of radio promotion experts from around the world offering advice on how to get your station noticed. Such examples of past attention-getting promotions were “Homeless Idol—where homeless people sing for cheese sandwiches.” Or the “Sex Toy Drive—drop off your new or gently used vibrator to our pink, fur-lined box.” It seems any publicity is good publicity in the radio biz.

Another seminar provided a chance for songwriters to have their work assessed and advised by a panel of big wig experts. Some songs were fantastic. Some sounded like something Mariah Carey rejected in 1995. Singer/songwriter Grant Tilly was advised by the people behind the microphones that his love song was “too wishy-washy. If you love her, go get her!” Tilly threw up his hands and said, “But she’s a lesbian! If you’d listen to the whole song, you’d get that!”

The showcase scene was full of indie kids (they’ve adopted the grunge rock look and attitude, but carry Daddy’s money in their wallet-on-a-chain), execs judging people’s worth by the title on their name tags, and musicians looking like they were being dragged around a family reunion to meet their great aunts. One venue, the Brunswick House, looked like “Dart Night at the Legion.” I’ve never seen so many Dolly Parton wigs and ballcap-and-moustache combos trying to find a beat to a punk band’s percussion-heavy angst. It turns out Moms and Dads come along for Music Week in the big city too.

Some bands had showcases that brought out hometown fans from across the country. Maritime band Wintersleep’s audience was an excited, happy crowd of misplaced Maritimers.

And of course, there is the drunkenness of CMW. One exec I saw at a seminar tried to make an award acceptance speech, failed miserably and finally slurred into the microphone: “Guys, I’m really drunk. I can’t even talk.” It was 11 am. Half of the people in the audience shouted, “Me too!”

CMW was a chance to schmooze, booze and go to a bunch of big parties that get shut down by hotel security. Execs shine, sparkle and dazzle, musicians slink in corners waiting to get back to their “play and jam till McBreakfast time” lives and reporters get free CDs that won’t play on their machines. Though in theory it’s a week established to promote and progress Canadian music, in reality, it was summed up for me by one sleeping bag-toting musician upon his arrival to CMW: “Man, I can’t wait to get smashed and stay that way till this thing is over.”

The Rudes Disband

by Lindsay Kyte

The Rude Mechanicals will be dressing up in plastic vegetables no more. “We broke up on January 6,” says Dennis Ellsworth, lead singer of the PEI band. “I guess you could say the reason was ‘creative differences.’ I was writing a lot of my own songs and we had only come up with one song as a band in quite a while. It was getting hard to work on new material in the rehearsal space as it seemed some people weren’t into it as much.”

Ellsworth says the band had simply run its course: “My songs were being pulled through this format machine we had as a band to write songs. I had tons of songs that were my own that I didn’t want to put in that format.”

However, though the Rudes may be no more, most of its members will still be heavily involved in the music scene. Ellsworth is currently recording a solo cd with the help of bandmates Mike Mella and Matt McQuaid. As well, the three are part of a new band called The Little Pilgrims.

“The Little Pilgrims was a project we had going on the side and it’s now moved into top priority,” says Ellsworth. “It started as a way to get out and get your music pleasure again while doing the hard work of the Rude Mechanicals. It’s still a band composed of East Coasters (other members include James Hicken, Mike Daley and Sheldon Kelly, with occasional performances by Todd MacLean). It’s similar to the Rudes in style, but definitely more relaxed and a lot easier to get things done.”

As well, Ellsworth says bandmate Todd MacLean, who is moving back to PEI, may get involved with the music scene on the Island again.

Overall, Ellsworth says he is pleased with what the Rudes have done and who they have been to their fans: “Some of the university students will remember our theme nights. Stuff like ‘Pyjama Night’ or ‘Crazy Hair Night’ or ‘Who’s Your Favourite Olympian Night.’” Ellsworth says what the Rude Mechanicals will remember from those nights is that Peter Forbes never had a costume: “He looked like a goofball by not having a costume. And it’s pretty hard to look like a goofball next to someone with plastic vegetables in their hair.”

Ellsworth says the band achieved all of its goals, took risks and played hard. And it was rewarded with the loyalty of its fans: “Some people might remember the ECMAs in Charlottetown when we played four one-hour sets at four different venues in one night. And at four in the morning, the place was jam packed to see us. That was pretty nice.”

The Little Pilgrims will be releasing an EP in March. Visit their website at to listen to samples of their music. The Little Pilgrims are also hoping to play some Island venues sometime this summer.

Anytime PEI

Kinda Kultural

by Lindsay Kyte

This month's theme is "things you can do anytime in PEI." I became a pseudo-tourist and tried to appreciate some great on-going events in PEI. Without having to spring for a Confederation Bridge coffee mug.

I went on a sleigh ride at Potts' farm in Bonshaw. The evening was beautiful---mild and dusky sunset-y. We waited in a room decorated with old farm gear and wooden wheels and a cast-iron wood stove. I felt like I had been transported back fifty years to a time before DVD and dot com. The two big horses trotted up with bells like windchimes, pulling a sleigh with an older man perched on a pillow. The ride was fresh and peaceful, through these wonderful trails, and a big white dog named Piggy supervised from beside the sleigh. It was so relaxing to be away from noise and concrete and commercials. After the ride, which was about 45 minutes, we were served delicious real hot chocolate. We left warm, rosy-cheeked and happy. All of this for only $4 each.

Next, I went to look at a piece in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery that has been described to me countless times as having "been there forever." It's the piece at the top of the stairs that consists of solidly coloured pieces of wood hung from the ceiling. It's called "Song of the Nations" by Armand Vaillancourt. So I sat and looked at it for about 20 minutes. I was struck by how much fun it must have been to make. Just slap some house paint from Home Hardware on some wood. Don't worry about shading or detail. Just get nice and dirty. Like finger painting. Then I thought how the different colours were like the different races within Canada. And each colour was like a note in a song. Colours have vibrations, just like sound. And each branch, if you run your eyes from top to bottom, is like a movement within a musical piece, curving and going off into different directions, but still part of the piece. Aptly titled, I thought, after I studied it for a bit.

And finally, I went to City Cinema to see O Brother Where Art Thou? Every time I go to City Cinema, I wonder why I don't go more often. It's very cheap-$5 a movie for a member. (A student membership is $16). That's about the price of renting a movie these days. Most films I've seen there have been highly entertaining, well-written and well-acted. They seem to be about stories and plots and characters, instead of special effects and star power. O Brother Where Art Thou? did have stars (George Clooney), but it was nothing like the latest Hollywood natural disaster flick. It was a simple, comic story about three escaped prisoners and their adventures in pursuing treasure. The best part about City Cinema: you can get popcorn without butter!

Maid, Mother & Crone

Arts event to celebrate International Women's Day, March 8

by Lindsay Kyte

Female Suppression by Shayli Vere

Artist Shayli Vere sees a need to enlighten people about what it means to be a woman. “A few years ago, a group of women tried to celebrate International Women’s Day in a campground in PEI,” says Vere. “They were just women together—camping, singing songs and things like that. And because they were celebrating ‘the goddess,’ which is essentially just celebrating women, they were all kicked out for being witches. So I’d like to see us move beyond this.”

Vere, along with fellow artist Michelle Ridgway, have organized an event at the Kier Gallery called “The Maid, Mother and Crone,” symbolizing the different stages of the female’s life and looking at the history of the female. “It’s just a bunch of women artists getting together and celebrating being a woman and being a goddess,” says Vere.

The event is part of a series of happenings on March 8 commemorating International Women’s Day. Vere’s event is the final stop, and begins at 8 pm. Admission is free. Other contributing artists are Teresa Doyle, Sandy Kowalik, Sylvia Ridgway, Kate Poole, Doreen Foster, Andrea McVean, Michelle Ridgway and Sandy McKinnon.

Vere says it was important to her that this event take place in connection with International Women’s Day. “This is a way to share with people the art and the women that have decided to explore the goddess in their work,” she says. “There will be drummers and possibly a dancer along with visual artists.”

Having drummers is especially significant. “The drummers are important because before Christianity, women were the spiritual leaders and drumming and music was considered a female act,” explains Vere. “So we were the first drummers. The drummers will have framed drums, one of the first instruments that the world created. It will be to celebrate creation and women as the givers of life.”

Vere says the event is also important to her personally. “We’re overdosed with male outlooks in our life, and for me it’s just taking a look at women for a change," she says. “And what it means in my own life—that I’ve gone through the ‘maid’ stage and I’m into ‘mother’ now. And it’s more important to me now, the stages of growth that women go through.”

Vere says she is especially excited to collaborate with other women. “I think that women are sort of looked at in a negative way if they’re grouped together. That’s a shame. Because men do all kinds of things together and when women do, we’re labeled in certain ways. I hope we'll be helping to move beyond that realm with this event.”

First Impressions are Forever

by Lindsay Kyte

A properly put together acting résumé can be essential to a successful audition for performing artists. It is an important tool. It's the ticket to getting noticed, to getting auditions and to getting parts. Therefore, an improperly done resume is a huge hindrance to an actor's career.

Gary Vermeir, of the Maritimes branch of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA ), says the most common mistake made with acting résumés is a muddy layout. "The auditioner wants to be able to scan it quickly and have the pertinent information jump out at him," he says.

Diane Nyland-Proctor, director and choreographer of Anne of Green Gables-The Musical, agrees. "The cleaner the better. In the audition room, you have to be able to go through them in a heartbeat."

Both Vermeir and Nyland-Proctor insist that résumés should only be one page. This page should have an actor's name at the top, height, weight, eye and hair colour, vocal range, whether equity or non-equity (professional or non), agency (if applicable), and contact information. Clothing sizes are unnecessary clutter, says Nyland-Proctor.

Listing your date of birth may limit casting potential, says Nyland-Proctor. "For example, if I was looking for someone that was kind of mid-twenties, and all of a sudden I look up and see that this really sophisticated young girl is really only seventeen, yes, it could affect casting."

After personal information, the next category is experience, says Vermeir. This should be separated into two categories: stage and "film and television." Nyland-Proctor suggests, "If you are going to a theatrical audition, it's a good idea to have your theatrical experience at the top. If you're going into a television or film audition, it's a good idea to have a résumé that just switches that around and have film at the top."

Nyland-Proctor says experience should be listed in columns. Productions are listed in the left-hand column, the character portrayed in the middle column, and the venue and director on the right. "By doing it that way," she says," I can rake through their résumé in a moment's notice."

The category below is "training," which should list an actor's training and instructor, says Nyland-Proctor. Finally, the last category is "special skills." Vermeir says any skill useful towards a production should be listed here. "If you are a skilled ballroom dancer or voted the best bartender in town-add it. You never know what skills the next role is going to require."

Vermeir warns against comic additions to this section. "`Great kisser' or silly things like that just waste everybody's time." As well, Vermeir says not to add skills like "various dialects" unless absolutely true. "If all your British accents sound like a drunken Ringo Starr," he says, "then you shouldn't be claiming to be a dialect specialist."

Lastly, Nyland-Proctor says actors should attach their résumés to their photos, with the blank part of a résumé facing the blank part of a photo. Therefore, when the director flips the picture over, the résumé is on the other side. Nyland-Proctor gives her Charlottetown show as an example. "We have gone through in the area of 1100 photos and résumés, so if it is not attached, the chances of it wandering are pretty good."

Musical Mystery Tour


by Lindsay Kyte

I considered using a pseudonym like "Lynn Seakite" for this column so no one would ever suspect who I was. But I decided people would figure who I was soon enough. Especially because I keep telling people about the column.

What this column will be is my recap of various events for the month in PEI. This month has oddly turned out to be an all-music month, but I'll also be reviewing theatre, fine art exhibits, readings, whatever. And also by some fluke, I really, really liked what I saw this month. But don't count on my always being so enamored with what I see.

15-year-old Alix MacLean's Tibetan benefit concert was a great idea with a great line-up: Scott Parsons, Emery Kenny, Real Pelletier and the Rude Mechanicals. And a great emcee, Matt Rainnie. There were also great door prizes, like a prize-filled backpack donated from the Mad Hatter. What was not great was the turn-out, due mostly to a Halloween-pub-battling date. Memorial Hall looked like a wedding reception before the majority of the guests show up. Most of the audience was Alix's age, which led to a lot of balloon fights on the dance floor. But the musicians and the emcee impressively did their best. Réal Pelletier sang a funky "Allouette." The Rude Mechanicals held a costume contest. And Matt Rainnie told a bunny-costumed prize winner to "hop on up" to get her prize. Which she promptly did.
Photo: Peter Forbes of the Rude Mechanicals

David Wilcox rocked Myron's on November 1 from the second he took the stage. Bald and dressed in jeans and sneakers, Wilcox' face and guitar had a life of their own-from his intense leaning down as if to coax the best sounds from his instrument to the swan-like craning of his neck as he enjoyed his efforts. And his enjoyment was frank, expressed by a teething-baby grin and a Louis Armstrong-escent widening of his eyes. The relaxed atmosphere felt like Wilcox was a bar-stool regular, who happened to be a master on the guitar. And we, his cronies, danced and cheered him on.

We heard a scream, yet no member of the band was at a mic. The sound had come from a pedal connected to the bass of Mike Lelievre, a member of Slowcoaster, who played at Baba's November 2nd and 3rd. The 3-member band from Cape Breton (Steven MacDougall-vocals and guitar, Devon Strang-drums) had quite an unusual and grooving sound. It defies description-sometimes reggae, sometimes blues-y, sometimes even country. Those sitting at tables listened with heads intently bobbing and those dancing danced with eyes intently closed. This band had our focus entirely, not because they were overly loud and prevented conversation, as is sometimes the case at Baba's, but because just when we thought we had puzzled out their sound, they would present us with something entirely unexpected and just as good.

And finally, the Jive Kings celebrated their new cd, as their song goes, "at the Mac on Saturday night." There was a great turnout of all ages to the starry, glittery MacKenzie Theatre November 4. The Jive Kings were, as usual, fabulously energetic. When Mike Ross sang their new song "Tugboat" (which I sang in my head for three days after), he looked like he had given up his soul to a musical god somewhere, his eyes heavenward, and what he became was pure music itself. Other playful new tunes, like "Mr. Magic," delighted the swing-dancing audience. What I always appreciate most about the Jive Kings, however, is how much they appreciate each other. When one member has a solo, all that exists in that moment for all other members is the sound of that solo. Perhaps such an exceptional camaraderie accounts for an exceptional sound and an exceptional energy.

So that was my magical musical tour of Charlottetown this month. Tune in again next month to read the strange, strange thoughts that make up my normal existence.

Events Calendar

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