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PEI Genealogical Society meeting

The next public meeting of the PEI Genealogical Society will be held September 29 from 2–4 pm at B [ ... ]

Grief Support Drop-in Group

A Grief Support Drop-in Group meets the third Thursday of each month from 7–8 pm at Provincial Pal [ ... ]

Outside of the Box

What's happening with radio on PEI? Part Two: radio@upei

In Her Own Write
by Ann Thurlow

Perhaps the most obvious question about radio@upei is this: why call it radio? To the unsophisticated, it looks pretty much like a website, albeit a website with lots of sound. But it doesn't work like radio. And that, says Mark Hemphill, is the very crux of what radio@upei is trying to do.

“We needed something familiar for people to grab onto, a familiar name,” he says. “It's like when they used to call cars horseless carriages. They didn't have anything to do with horses, but they kind of described them.”

Hemphill is a professor of business at UPEI. radio@upei came from a challenge he issued his students to find new and interesting ways to apply technology. But at it's root is a philosophy and a way of thinking about media. From their frequently asked questions section:

We're living in a time when the vast majority of our dominant media outlets are controlled by a very small, very distant, and very detached few. But the Internet changes everything. We can give a voice to those great independent artists, and independent thinkers, that we love and see so rarely in the advertising-supported mainstream media.

What that philosophy means, in practical terms is a radio station that uses new technology to offer access to anyone in the greater UPEI community (ie: anyone who has ever had anything to do with UPEI or wants to reach UPEI students, staff or alumni). There are weblogs and podcasts and streaming audio and the contributions are as eclectic as you'd expect from a university.

Contributors use the site to promote a favourite band or an interesting ideology. There are notices about pub crawls and the CARI pool. Streaming audio offers a healthy selection of Canadian (and especially Atlantic Canadian) music. Listeners are invited to contribute a song or two—or even a whole show—to the mix. The site has a SOCAN license, which allows it to play music legally. The Panther radio service at radio@upei also offers broadcasts and podcasts of Panthers hockey and soccer games. Even organizations that are not specifically student centered, but might be of interest to students use radio@upei to get their message out.

The immediacy of the medium is starting to produce interesting results. As the recent coup unfolded in Thailand, former UPEI student Thomas Vignal, who now lives there, reported first hand on his experiences. And within a surprisingly short time, mainstream media was on the phone to radio@upei trying to track Vignal down.

Hemphill thinks that rradio@upei virtually broke the story of the coup in Thailand is “pretty cool.” But he says it's the inherent democracy of an internet radio service that he finds the most attractive. “People can take it upon themselves to use the service as they see fit,” he says. Contributors are cautioned to be respectful. The problem so far has not been lack of respect, but perhaps lack of effort from people who are used to be being passive consumers of media.

Certainly radio@upei is not the only media outlet to use the internet. All of the radio stations on the Island have websites. They allow passive participation (send us your story ideas! enter our contest!). but none allow the listeners to actually become the station itself.

Hemphill believes it's an idea whose time has come. He points out that, with no need to deliver listeners to advertisers, radio@upei is free to be whatever the users want it to be. “Young people are all over this,” he says. “They are used to being active contributors and to listening to what they like, instead of what someone feeds them.”

Across the hall from Hemphill's office, students Nathan Gill and Ryan Palmer are busily working on an upgrade to the station which will be launched in October. They have been heavily involved in Panther radio (a service that is so well used that it has actually attracted advertisers) and are hoping to convenience other universities to use their technologies to broadcast their own athletic events.

I ask them if they think something like radio@upei will ever replace the more passive medium of radio that you just turn on and listen to. They believe this has already happened. I tell them the first thing I do in the morning is turn on the radio. They say the first thing they do is turn on their computers.

Inside the Box

In Her Own Write

by Ann Thurlow

What’s happening with the private radio stations on PEI?

It comes as no surprise that Prince Edward Islanders are the most avid radio listeners in the country. According to Statistics Canada, we listen more often—and for longer periods—than anyone else in the country. Jennifer Evans general manager of Newcap radio in Charlottetown says the reason is simple: Islanders hate to think they’re missing something. And Heather Tedford—of MBS Radio tells a story to illustrate the point. “Right after the PEI legislature was bombed, I walked into a coffee shop. Everyone in the place was huddled around a radio, trying to find out what was going on.”

The two women find themselves suddenly in the middle of a bit of an explosion of their own. Late this summer, private radio on PEI turned up the volume. Due to a CRTC ruling that allowed the old CHTN to move in with CFCY and Magic 93, MBS radio was really the only game in town. But when the CRTC reversed that decision, Newcap, CHTN’s actual owner, had to take the station back. They decided PEI didn’t need a moribund oldies station anymore. Suddenly CHTN became Ocean 100. Newcap upped the ante by applying for another broadcast license—the station that has become K-ROCK. MBS responded by rebranding CJRW as Spud FM and revamping their other two stations, CFCY and Magic 93.

Suddenly, it seems like there’s a lot of choice on the radio dial.

Heather Tedford points out that it’s really only one more license—five private station when there were four. But she admits that the new stations have forced both stations to more carefully define their sound. “The approach now is more boutique, as opposed to department store,” she says.

Because private radio’s ultimate goal is to deliver listeners to advertisers, it has to be able to define those listeners when the advertisers are choosing where to spend their money. There’s a whole new jargon around this. Ocean 100 is Classic Hits, K-ROCK is classic and current rock. The difference? One appeals more to women (ages 25 to 54) and the other to men. Magic 93 is Lite Rock Hits (for ages 18­49). CFCY is Contemporary Country (35 and up). Spud FM is also Classic Rock—but edgier, according to the information for advertisers.

Add in CBC and Radio Canada and it all of a sudden feels like there’s a lot of radio here for such a small population. But Jennifer Evans argues that, in fact, the population was under served before. She points to the fact that many PEI listeners were tuning in to off-Island stations, most notably Big Dog in Truro, to get the music they wanted. “People like the music they like. What we can add is locally programmed music combined with local information. If a snowstorm is going to shut down schools, an off Island station is not going to tell you that.”

The issue of local, live programming is central to radio’s appeal, at least in this province. Jennifer Evans says, with some pride, that both the Newcap stations are live 7 days a week from six am until midnight. MBS makes no such claim. And it has recently come under fire in some quarters for canceling local programming such as church services and death notices. On the other hand, Heather Tedford points out that radio needs to give people what they want and, in this market at least, what the majority of radio listeners want is more country music. According to the Bureau of Broadcast Management’s survey, country is the number one tuned radio format on PEI. And, with an aging population of radio listeners, more Shania Twain might be a good bet.

The first indication of how this will all shake down will come soon.

September was a ratings period, though Heather Tedford isn’t sure the ratings this time will give a good indication of what’s going on. “There’s a certain curiosity factor,” she says. “People love to know what’s new. They may check out the new stations for a while, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay.”

Over the long term though, the future of radio on PEI may have more to do with new technology than with old listening habits. Internet radio, downloading, podcasts and sites such as MySpace give listeners they music they want, where and when they want it. Will this be the last generation of radio listeners? Next month, we’ll look at some new ideas about an old medium.

Taste the Book

Enduring the promotional tour for Island restaurant book “ Taste”

by Ann Thurlow

I have a recurring dream. In that dream I am reading about a marvelous meal when suddenly—I am eating that meal. I might be reading Taste, for example, a new book from Nimbus about the restaurant food on Prince Edward Island. The recipes and the stories about them were lovingly compiled by Andrew Sprague and beautifully photographed by Anne MacKay and Wayne Barrett. The recipes range from the humble (Verna Clow’s Savory Meat Pie, page 13 ) to the fancy (Brome Lake Duck Breast with Five-Bean Cassoulet, page 57)). Each is enough to make a foodie swoon.

But back to my dream. In it, oyster shucking champion John Bil is opening yet another fabulous Colville Bay and I am dousing it with a mignonette made with wine and shallots (page 37) But wait a minute—I’m not dreaming! I am at John Bil’s new Claddagh Oyster House with several other writers and we are being given a tour to promote Taste. There are oysters! There is sauce! I am in heaven!

Not so one of my companions, who tries his first oyster, smiles bravely and vows never to do it again. But he brightens visibly as we are escorted the the deck at our second stop, The Dunes. Each of the featured restaurants (there are seven on the tour) has been asked to prepare the dish featured in Taste. But chef Emily Wells kicks it up a notch. We are fed a five course meal in tiny tastes, culminating with Rack of Lamb with Ginger Marinade.(page 19)

Fueled by a glass of wine and Grilled Mackerel with Maple Vinaigrette Dressed Greens (page 22) at Dayboat, the writers begin to relax. There is much good food, all of it prepared locally and much of it harvested here. Despite what we have eaten already ready, we are happy to tuck into Fettucine all’aragosta (page 49) at Sirenella Risorante. It is not about hunger anymore—it is all about flavour. We jump up again and are hustled off to the Merchantman Pub for four courses, finishing off with the fabulous Medallions of Beef in Red Wine Port Shallot Sauce with Blue Cheese Butter (page 16). By this time, of course, we laughing and sated and devil-may-care. When confronted with a wonderful slab of blueberry cake at the Pilot House, we fall on it as though we were starving.

The evening ends, for me, at St. James Gate. Tempting snacks are on offer. but suddenly I am…way…too…full. I realize as I stagger home that I could actually recreate this wonderful night because I am clutching a copy of Taste with almost all of the recipes in it. But why use a cookbook to cook, when you can use it to dream?

Amazing Pace

Canada Rocks!

Review by Anne Thurlow

What’s not to love about Joey Kitson? Whenever he takes centre stage in Canada Rocks!, the whole theatre lights up. His voice and his smile are infectious and the decision to add him to this year’s production was a smart one. So, too, was the decision to eliminate the story line that rankled during last year’s show and just concentrate on the music. Because the music is amazing.

Canada Rocks! must have presented interesting challenges for its writers. The cast had to include actors who were also in Anne of Green Gables—and an orchestra. The musical choices had to reflect the history Canada’s pop music and yet suit the singing and dancing style that is the Charlottetown Festival’s tradition. What it becomes is something that is neither a rock concert or a stage musical, but something entirely new and that’s exciting. It’s what the Charlottetown Festival should be all about. It shows what a treasure trove Canadian music is and it celebrates it.

That it all works so well is a tribute to everyone—but in particular to arranger and conductor Donald Fraser. Music purists might be looking for a reinterpretation of their favourite songs, but Fraser actually reinvents a lot of them and the result is interesting and challenging and magical. And who wouldn’t want to see a rock and roll band that is fronted by the inimitable Chris Corrigan? He, along with Matt Minglewood, Terry Hatty and Kitson are the rock and roll heart of this piece and haul the musical back when it threatens to go too Las Vegas.

The first act is all high energy—these singers have more pipes than Midas Muffler. The songs that are so familiar—classics like Born to be Wild, Flying on Your Own, One Fine Morning—become anthems. The audience is along for the ride—humming along with Sonny’s Dream, watching Julain Molnar’s interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in complete awe. I did not think I liked the song From New York to LA, but after seeing the high energy version by Kristen Peace (one place where it was okay to be all Vegas), I have completely changed my mind. Many of the dancers and occasional singers are mostly young people who weren’t even born when much of this music was popular and yet they buy it and make it their own.

By the second act, you’re glad of a little respite. The music is more reflective—strong, as opposed to nonstop high energy. An exception: Gabriel Antonacci’s version of Rockin’ in the Free World, which completely captures the spirit of that angry, triumphant tune.

By the middle of the second act, the conceit of a musical trip across the country is gone. It’s like the end of the Canada Day fireworks, when the best things just explode one after another. Gone, too, in this part are the little didactic breaks and I’ll admit I didn’t miss them one bit. I am glad the CRTC made Cancon mandatory in 1970, but learning at a night at the theatre felt like a spoonful of medicine. Take that out and throw in some more great music, I say. Maybe another tune from Joey Kitson.

A side note to anyone, like the guy sitting next to us, who thinks that a gallon of cologne is a good addition to a theatrical experience: Forget it. My date and I had to change seats because neither of us could breathe. Save it for the disco.

Dangerous Fun

Sketch-22

Review by Ann Thurlow

The defining moment for this year’s Sketch 22 comes near the middle of the second act. Here’s the premise: the Sketch Academy is doing scientific research to find the funniest catch phrase ever. A scientist (played by Rob MacDonald) asks the audience to react as two other scientists use phrases in certain situations. The first phrase is a bunch of nonsense words and there isn’t much laughter. The second phrase involves the popular term for a sexual act. The audience roars. The point is made.

Sketch 22 has made a name for itself recently by pushing the bounds of taste and this year, they’re at it again. The audience loves it, mostly, so it appears they have hit on something. But maybe the easy laughs are letting an extremely talented group of actors and writers off the hook a little bit. If the audience will laugh just because you stand on the stage and swear well, why try any harder?

A case in point: a sketch called The Right Wrong Way. It starts off great—Andrew Sprague is a smarmy promoter who has reunited two faded country stars, terrifically portrayed by Dennis Trainor and Rob MacDonald (one of several sketches in which he plays a woman, always with hilarious result). The set up really works, it is funny and almost poignant at the same time, like the best scenes from The Office. But then, when they decide to sing a song together, it is a lament for the loss of their favourite sexual practices. Don’t get me wrong—the audience liked it, especially the part about the dead rabbit. But it was an easy out.

For the first time, Sketch 22 has a female cast member and Harmony Wagner’s addition to the cast is fun. She is a spunky tomboy and, because she is small, it plays well against the guys. Her best performance is at the beginning, with the very funny video piece called Your Charlottetown.

In fact, the increasingly clever and sophisticated use of video is the very best thing about Sketch 22 this year. The group makes awe inspiring transitions between the video pieces and the live action and that’s a lot of fun to watch. Also amusing is the repetition of certain characters and catch phrases throughout the show—it makes the evening feel like more of a whole. After a couple of appearances, Graham Putnam, as Crazy Cecil, our neighbour from down the way, can get a laugh just by walking on stage. It is the amiable side of this very funny actor; with some of his other characters—like Mr. Dressup in a dress—you laugh because he is almost menacingly nuts.

Comedy that involves a lot of swearing is dangerous fun. Not because you have to worry about offending anybody—most people who go to Sketch 22 know what they’re in for. But it’s an easy laugh and that can be addictive. It would be interesting some year to see Sketch 22 push their own boundaries a bit—and go for the difficult laugh instead of the easy one.

A Tattle Tale

The School for Scandal

Review by Anne Thurlow

It may be a challenge to our better angels, but everyone likes a little gossip now and then. As Sir Peter points out in the prologue for A School for Scandal, we like gossip a whole lot more when it’s not about us.

The play was first produced in 1777. But its themes, and its message, are fresh over 200 years later: gossip is fun and vicious and it can really mess things up.

A School for Scandal rings especially true in a small town, where nearly everyone has been the victim of gossip at one time or other. And, as with any play where the language is archaic and a little unfamiliar, it gives the actors something to really work on.

The play has two kinds of characters. The gossipers, who are caricatures—almost cartoons—and the gossiped about, who are closer to being real. The gossipers were hilarious. Clearly the actors were having a good time taking their characters way over the top. Though her part as Mrs. Candour (yes, the names are that cheesy) was small, Barbara Rhodenhizer was outstanding. In the challenge to take archaic language and make it work for the audience, her performance was a clear success.

So, too, was Terry Pratt’s. The man who conceived and directed this production was called on at the last minute to replace an actor who was unable to perform. When you see an actor with a script in his hand, you think “Uh-oh.” As the victim of gossip, relating to his marriage to a younger wife with a wandering eye, he was both funny and poignant.

His production design was nothing to sneeze at, either. The success of the theatre in the round was another pleasant surprise. It brought the audience right into the show and used the space at The Guild as effectively as I’ve ever seen it done.

One of the difficulties of directing a community production is dealing with actors who are of widely varying degrees of experience. How do you bring all the actors up to the level of Ron Irving who, as rich uncle Oliver, was his usual magnificent self? Rene Ortiz is a case in point. He is not an actor well known on the Island stage—and he clearly had to work to make the language his own. But he more than compensated with a performance (as the drunken big spender with a heart of gold) that found real emotion in a play that is dominated by farce. So, too, did Sharon Eyster, whose distress at the gossip around her was admirable. And in a role that called on her to be both funny and heartfelt, Ashley Clark (the young philandering wife of Sir Peter) was wonderful. And a word, too, about Tony Walsh, who played as convincing a drunk as I’ve seen.

It’s a School for Scandal, so what did I learn? That it’s okay to forgive—in fact, you’ll have a much better time if you do. And if you look for the best in people, you’ll probably find it.

Events Calendar

September 2018
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Some Upcoming Events

Forage PEI

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

Jimmy Rankin shows

November 22 at Trailside Café
November 23 at Harbourfront Theatre Jimmy Rankin's new Moving East (o [ ... ]

Hip Hop at Holland College

Snak the Ripper and others at Florence Simmons September 22
Florence Simmons Performance Hall   [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Drawing the line

Profile: Sandy Carruthers by Jane Ledwell Retired for a year now after twenty-five years teaching  [ ... ]

Free transportation at Cloggeroo

The provincial government will sponsor free transportation at this year’s Cloggeroo festival to he [ ... ]

Charlottetown’s Historic Squares exhibit...

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