New Zealand – like a huge warm Hug 

Visit a country that is tailor made for the ultimate road- trip experience. A three week trip will allow you to get an excellent flavour of what both distinctly different islands have to offer.

To use a coffee analogy ( New Zealanders and folk who’ve been there , you know what I mean!) a visit to New Zealand is as delicious as a whole milk cappuccino brimming over with creamy foam and dusted generously with chocolate: Comforting, visually luxurious – in short a Treat.

It has a vibrant Generation Y brimming with vitality, a zest for life, travel and adventure and with a bottomless bucket list of must do’s. It also has a refreshing layer of hard working baby boomer women who seem to dominate the hospitality industry, infusing it with a level of experience and can do attitude not seen in many other countries.
Spend a night in a castle. Walk to a volcanoe, watch an authentic performance of the Maori Hakka; visit the incredible giant albatross and watch a yellow eyed penguin attempt to come home through giant crashing rollers!! The list of experiences is endless.

The north island roughed out over millions of years by profuse volcanic activity, has also been shaped by Maori culture and folklore and sculpted by recent agriculture trends and tourism.

Spend some time in the “Te Papa museum of New Zealand” (Wellington ) and the “Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa” (Rotorua) to get a fly-by flavour of the culture and history of NZ. These visits are a must in order to truly appreciate the rich indigenous heritage of the country; a heritage that has been handed down verbally (and through dance) ensuring that the Maori legacy remains vibrant and connected.

The north islands strange volcanic landscape is also host to many a memorable scene from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings

The South Island, home to mountains on the west coast that rise straight out of the sea to crest in the southern alps then fall dramatically via steep mountain passes to the wide plains, gentle valleys and the a web of coastal settlements on the south and east coasts.

Both islands embraced by miles of unspoilt coastal scenery, lush sub-tropical vegetation and deserted beaches. Beaches that range from shell encrusted to black volcanic lava; endless sands to boulder strewn, all washed by either the Tasman Sea or the South Pacific.

Kia-ora – Welcome to New Zealand

When:Anytime

Winter is June – August – some mountain passages will require vehicles to carry snow chains in case of heavy weather on the passes.

How:

The most efficient and easy way to plan your road trip is to check out the superb wwwnewzealand.com

For accommodation use a site like http://www.booking.com and corroborate reviews using Trip Advisor

Tip: Don’t rely purely on your mobile phone for travel information as you may not be able to get an internet signal in certain parts of the country. Print off the road-trip routes and get great map and Guidebook.


  
  
  

  
  
  
  

  
  
  
  
  
  
 © Carol Spode 2015

Norway


This is indeed a land of paradox on many fronts

Let’s talk size….

UK has a population of around 60 million but Norway which is almost twice as large in area has less than 5 million and most of those are concentrated in the Country’s largest cities, Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim  and Stavinger. That’s a lot of unoccupied land

they have one of the highest living standards in the western world AND the highest cost of living

They have a healthy social infrastructure that includes free schooling; excellent child care and medical services yet most of the commercial retailer close at 5pm throughout the week, close for lunch and don’t open on Sundays!!

It’s like going back 40 years to the innocent hazy lazy days without internet and a million TV channels.

The quality living of the 70’s with all the benefits of the 21st century!
They have high earnings yet alcohol is so expensive that many Norwegians nurse one or two drinks only during a night out.

A Starbucks Americano will cost you approximately Can$12

A mediocre bottle of wine $70

A local brew $15

A small non descript beer will cost you around $12

But hey you’re not expected to tip

Hotels on the other hand can be excellent value as – for instance – somewhere like The Clarion Collection Hotel chain includes breakfast, afternoon snacks, coffee and a buffet supper included inthe price thud saving an unsuspecting traveller the need to re mortgage their house back home to “eat out”

It’s the land of the midnight sun and 3am picnics and long dark polar nights that go on as long as 3 months above latitude 70
They speak English like native Brits – quite often with a British regional accent yet their transport system ticket machines, map and signage is virtually unfathomable unless you have a helpful Norwegian to hand.

For instance – the trains are beautiful, well maintained, smooth and efficient, you could eat your lunch off the floor they are that clean!

BUT there are no maps on the platforms so if you did manage to purchase a ticket good luck with working out which platform you need. Worse is when you find that you could’ve gotten away without paying that $30 ticket to travel 2 stops. There are no ticket collection barriers or machines and often the conductor who collects and issues tickets on the train doesn’t make an appearance!

Home to some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet Norway is  the motherland of cross country skiing. We saw hordes of perfect Norwegian specimens riding several hours on the train only to alight at stations where whiteout situations prevailed.; where essentially there was NOTHING TO SEE. Where the weather was so bad you couldn’t even see the station signage. Yet heavily togged up skiers with tents and huge backpacks de-trained and trudged off, disappearing into the cloying and inhospitable whiteness.
It has the largest most northernmost city in the world (Tromso) which should – by dint of it’s geographical  position so near (relatively) to the North Pole – be unthinkingly uninhabitable, but the scores of ports and hamlets beading the fjorded coastline of Norway’s shores are lapped by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream ensuring ice free passage for fishing, ferries and trawlers. So Tromso – the Arctic Capital – has a thriving and robust healthcare industry, a massive university offering arctic studies (duh) and medical disciplines, fishing / oh and still no commercial ventures open on a Sunday!!

If you want a direct answer, ask a direct question; we found that whilst the Norwegians are welcoming and friendly they need to be asked a well thought out direct question and then the floodgates will open in terms if the information you get back.

WHEN:  The appearance of the Northern lights wanes around the end of March and puffins abound during May/June so if you come in the shoulder season of April expect off season rates, smaller tours and fabulous scenery whatever the weather. Oh and less turbulent seas when for instance you cross large “bodies of water” to teach the Lofoten Islands. You can expect rain – hugging the Atlantic  and despite the presence of the Gilf stream Norway has a maritime climate.

HOW: Take the HURTIGRUTEN Ferry; billed as the most beautiful journey in the world (I tend to agree), many Norwegians  consider it a “right of passage” to “ride” the “Hurtigruten” up to the northern most Russian border town of Kirkenes. (Pronounced Chirkenes) and back again, taking 7 days to go north and 6 days to go back south. It stops at around 72 ports (on the round trip) and passengers have the opportunity to take tours and trips at about 12 of these stops. We travelled/cruised northbound only (wishing we’d also returned with the ship) on the beautiful Trollesfjord  – one of the newer offerings of the fleet. beautifully decorated in a jaunty nautical style and (of course) spotlessly clean) with neat cabins (underfloor heating in the cabin washroom – yay). Posh suites were available but we intended to spend virtually no time in our cabin so figured what was the point.

There is No traditional. “Cruise” entertainment on board although I never got to open a single page of the 3 books I’d brought with me!

Between spending too much time hanging over the sides at tiny ports watching the people and items going on and off the ship; eating ( the food is divine), fizzing in the on- deck  hot-tub watching the ever changing scenery; going  to info sessions, talks, documentaries and demonstrations; ; going to the gym and sauna (both with floor to ceiling view of coastline) and going excursions I had no time whatsoever for reading. I literally didn’t want to miss a moment of this glorious trip.

Anybody travelling to Norway to take the Hurtigruten ferry I would recommend several days in Oslo first to take in the amazing world-class museums including the Vikkng Ship Museum; The Kontiki Museum; The Fram, The Edvard Munch Museum, the Resistance Museum ; the Norwegian Folk Museum ; the Nobel Peace Prize Building; Radhuset ( the Art Deco City hall monolith that dominates the waterfront) and the Akerhaus Fort.

You can then take a “Norway in a Nutshell ” train tour over the the mountains to Bergen where the ferries embark. You can book this online at the NSB site.

To be honest, whilst Bergen is a stunningly beautiful city rich in history – it’s famous photogenic Hanseatic buildings line the wharf – you don’t  really need more than a night and a whole day to visit – go up the funicular for stupendous views of the several simultaneous weather systems sweeping the sprawling metropolis – so much bigger than the small heritage core would suggest!. Visit the Rosenkrans tower (check  limited opening times for entrance); and explore the medieval lane ways between the old Hanseatic community buildings – leaving a few hours to visit the Hanseatic Museum.

Have fun

  
  
  

  

 Over and Out

Gone with the Wind in Charleston 


  
  
  
  
  
  
 As soon as you step off the plane you are hit with the searing 95% humidity associated with the tropics. Every pore in your body goes from standby mode into full operational onslaught within nano seconds of exposure to the moisture laden air. Similarly your freshly ironed cotton shirt looks like a damp rag and anything you are wearing containing Lycra will have to be surgically removed if you don’t immediately seek refuge in an air conditioned environment
Welcome to Dixie

Travelling into Charleston from the airport – the loveliest introduction to a what turns out to be an even lovelier city – via the Ashley River road is a low country treat. Flanking the River Ashley – one of Charleston’s 2 main river systems – this wide sinuous road, home to many of the magnificent Plantation Estates of the South Carolinas has a delightfully rural feel, lined with ancient oaks and magnolias and embraced with spanish moss hanging in feathery festoons overhead and across the banks of the river.

You know you’ve entered the city’s core as soon the tar macadam gives way to mottled pink and ochre cobbles.

When your car has to give way to one of many horse and carriages that thread their way up and down the mainly residential lane ways from The Battery into the heart of the city by the old market buildings.

When you appear to pass through into an alternate reality of streets lined with gracious 17 century white and pastel antebellum houses, wedding cake affairs tiered with 3-sided verandas all facing the same direction in a bid to capture the breezes coming off the sea.

These are the famous “Charleston Single Houses”, homes which have form and function perfectly suited to the hot, humid local climate. One- room wide with the narrow end of the house facing the street they usually have Two-story piazzas (verandas) stretching down the windward side

MUST DO’s

*Take a rikshaw ride at dusk around the Battery and White Point Gardens. This area is home to the grandest most exclusive  Charlestonian mansions – built here for maximum exposure to the Atlantic breezes funnelled up through the inlet of Charleston Harbour.

* I know it’s touristy but a carriage ride with an excellent guide is a MUST – we had a highly entertaining couple of hours with “Charleston Carriage Works” who are based near Meeting Street just behind the market

*A ferry to the notorious Fort Sumter the place where the American civil war kicked off in 1861. Tickets for this trip are available only through the National Parks site

* Hire a car and visit a few of the gracious old world plantations that line the Ashley River. We visited Magnolia Plantation, Middleton place (only the lodge house remains after fire however the restaurant is lovely as are the grounds). We also visited the rather sad remains of the once significant Drayton Hall. Funds are being raised by Drayton Hall historic trust to restore this beautiful estate to its former glory.

*”Hang onto the car an extra day and go to Morris Island with its amazing beach community, and lighthouse.

*Back in the city, the most effective way of covering Charleston’s richest concentration of cultural heritage sites is to stroll the one-mile section of Meeting Street called “Museum Mile”. You will discover six museums, five nationally important historic houses, four scenic parks and a Revolutionary War powder magazine, as well as numerous historic houses of worship and public buildings including the Market and City Hall

Aiken-Rhett House

The Charleston Museum

Childrens Museum of the Lowcountry

Joseph Manigault House

Washington Light Infantry

Confederate Museum

The Powder Magazine

Gibbes Museum of Art

Old Slave Mart Museum

South Carolina Historical Society

Postal Museum

Heyward-Washington House

Nathaniel Russell House Museum

Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon (Take a guided tour and hear about the various escapes, the hidden cache of gunpowder and the ghosts – yes you can do a ghost tour of this historic building but book in advance. This part of the city is a maze of underground tunnels)

Edmondston-Alston House

Whew

If you still have tune to spare Spend a few hours in the Meeting Place Market browsing fragrant sweet grass souvenirs and straw hats.

A trip to Charleston is nothing you are without an understanding of the foundation upon which the city’s prosperity and social hierarchy was built. The picture painted by the exhibits and  accounts at The Old Slave Mart ( see above) are not for the faint hearted. The legacy of the slave trade still lives on on this part of the world, deeply embedded in the psyche of the ruling Charlestonian class and interwoven into the very fabric of current Charleston high society.
Finally no visit to Charleston can be complete without an out of town visit to Charles Towne Landing to see where it all began in 1670

Accompanying reading:

“The Girl from the South” – Joanna Trollope

“The invention of Wings” – Sue Monk -Kidd

Any of the “Virals” series by Kathy Reichs
Over and out

Toronto Tailor-made for Shoestring Budgets

Having lived in London and spent time in many of the World’s largest cities, I can honestly say that I have found nowhere as accessible as Toronto for quality cheap or next to nothing entertainment.
This list is by no means exhaustive and I will add as I learn more.
Knock yourself Out!

Theatre & Comedy
National Theatre of the World – look out for NTOW’s Baram and Sniekus who practice their particular brand of improvised comedy all over Toronto but can often be found on Friday evenings at the John Candy Theatre (Second City training theatre) on Peter Street – Pwyc
http://www.thenationaltheatreoftheworld.com

Shakespeare in the Ruff puts on amazing Shakespeare adaptations every summer in Withrow Park
Pwyc
http://www.shakespeareintheruff.com

Same goes for Canadian Stage’s High Park Shakespeare Productions running June 26 through to September 1.
http://www.canadianstage.com

Jazz & Blues
The following primarily operate on a tip- jar payment system so essentially pwyc
Gate 403
http://www.gate403.com

The Rex Hotel
http://www.therex.ca

The Winchester Kitchen
http://www.winchesterkitchen.com

The Monarch Pub at the Eaton Chelsea pub has music – jazz and blues every night. No cover
See website for details
http://www.monarchspub.ca

Play
Want to play a board game, do a jigsaw, play pinball on a vintage machine, draw something?
Unlike many of other “Board Game cafes” 3030 does not charge a cover for you to exercise your creativity – help yourself on first-come first-serve basis. Just buy a drink or two and your evening’s entertainment is sorted for the price of that drink
http://www.3030dundaswest.com

For $7 return take a Ferry over to Toronto Islands.
Ward and Algonquin Island for boardwalk cute cottage community and gardens, Hanlan’s Point for beaches and shady dappled trails. Centre Island for Amusement Park/Bike hire, pier, busy kid friendly beaches etc.
TIP: The best way to avoid the enormous queues in the summer and if there are a few of you likely to be visiting the Islands a couple of times a year. Buy a string of 10 tickets for $63 and march straight through the lines and onto the ferry.

Food
Summerlicious and Winterlicious foodie events ensure that the most cash strapped amongst us can enjoy a slap-up meal in a host of Toronto’s more high-end restaurant.
lunch is best value with a fixed price
menu for generally $25 for 2/3 courses and dinner more expensive at $35/$40.

Art/Museums
Visit the AGO for free on Wednesday evenings after 5pm
http://www.ago.net

Visit the ROM at a reduced price on Friday nights after 4pm
http://www.rom.on.ca

Ripleys Aquarium
If you live in town and you love Aquariums then the most cost effective way of visiting again and again is to buy an annual membership for $100
Whilst this is hardly “shoestring ” speak; when you consider that the cost of an individual ticket is almost $40 – you do the math…..
Subscribe to their newsletter too as they frequently have deals for students…

Hart House offers free tours of their eclectic art collection – check website
http://www.harthouse.ca

Go for an Art Gallery crawl along Tecumseth Street or Queen Street West – many gallery owners are happy to show interested parties around the work they are profiling in their spaces.

Last but not least sign up for Groupon, Buytopia, Yipit and Travel zoo to get huge discounts and deals on local restaurants , museums and experiences ( and of course products)

Over and Out

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The Toronto International Film Festival – The Scenes behind the Screens

“My name is Carol

I am an ordinary person who on several days during early September had the privilege of doing an extraordinary job

A job you cannot do anywhere else in the world…….

I was a Volunteer at the Toronto International Film Festival – part of the TIFF volunteer army at what is widely considered to be the largest Public Film Festival on the planet

Forget the glam, the glitz and the galas, this is the grass roots level of the Festival, the crowds, the chaos (organized of course), and the queues; the lost, the confused, the angry and the excited.

We of the orange TShirts are your directions; your answers to questions; we are the “live” version of your Festival Guide.

You can count on us – as you line up to claim your ticket; your seat; your glimpse of Celebrity.

You will find us behind every red carpet “updo” and mega watt smile; at every barrier, theatre or stage door and even on the the corners of streets in the downtown locales of the streets.

Our iconic orange Tshirts are the beacon of sanity amidst the wonderful annual brouhaha that is TIFF.

So what’s a day working at the Festival like?

Read On….

To even get to this day volunteers have submitted an essay on why we should be chosen; attended a selection session; an interview, and attended 2 training sessions. We have had the Customer Service doctrine drummed into us “in the nicest possible way” and we are expected to be totally professional around the myriad celebrities and hordes of general public that will walk into our line of vision.

6.am wake up call (for a 7.30 start today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on King Street West). Unfold and fight my way into a freshly pressed “Florida” orange volunteer TShirt – (4 sizes fit all)

7.15am – Arrive at The Tiff Bell Lightbox – O&B Canteen shut so no coffee before kick off. Greeted at entrance by the early bird Orange T shirt shift who at this point are marshalling volunteers to the Volunteer Lounge on Floor 4

Arrive at the Volunteer Lounge
– done it all before and have had refresher training so know exactly what to expect. This time I have elected to be a Theatre volunteer at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for the majority of my shifts with one “Go anywhere, Do anything” “ACE” shift where in fact I get sent home early because of the lack of need for back up during that afternoon!

Three other buzz- filled days follow, filled with usher and “clicking” duties and I got lucky in that I “saw” 3 movies whilst ushering, one of which was s star studded gala! I also used my volunteer tickets (the perk) to see a move at Hot Docs cinema on Bloor as a bona fide ticketed member of the audience and I attempted to use one of my treasured tickets to rush a Press & Industry” screening for the Bill Murray movie – which was full do after a 45 minute wait I leave movie less. So now I know what it feels like first hand to “fail” in the Rush line!!!

Being a movie-goer at the festival is not for the faint hearted. Guests range from serious TIFF aficionados who research every TIFF contender simply wanting to get a first shot at seeing a movie that will go on general release very soo, to those that want to catch a “never to be publicly released gem”. Others will take vacation after pouring over mind blowing colour coded schedules; trying to decipher the movie pass/members’ pass dynamics. They will queue up to watch back to back films whilst working out how to skew the space/time continuum in order to catch a movie at a theatre 10 minutes away from a screening that ends 5 minutes before the next one starts!!!.

Queuing amongst these are those that merely want to be part of something very special, to catch a little red-carpet reflected glamour. Whatever the reason, as a Volunteer I got to see from the inside the amount of trouble and care taken to maintain TIFF’s standing as the largest public film festival in the world and to maintain its reputation as the “go to” Film Festival for both Movie makers, celebrities, press and public..

In short TIFF has it all sewn up from the inside out.
I’ll be back – as they say…..
Over and Out

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Les Coquettes Cabaret – Burlesque with a twist

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In the follow up to Burlesque week here in Toronto it seems timely to do a sound bite on “Les Coquettes Caberet”

Having been to some predictably cheesy drag shows in my time I thought I should do a little research before dragging along my poor unsuspecting partner. There is a world of difference between your average “hen night” drag show and sumptuous Burlesque, the definition of which – and I quote – is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects”. As a theatrical art form it is historically rooted as far back as the 17 century and at its most extravagant peak as an entertainment outlet for the repressed Victorians.

What Les Coquettes presented was Dita Von Teese meets “Pirates of the Caribbean” meets Village People with a passing nod at “Moulin Rouge”.
The show called “Exhibition” was – in the true tradition of Burlesque – loosely woven around the seriousness of projected images of famous art masterpieces.
The Mistress of ceremonies La Minouche – “Bred for love in both New York and Paris” was stellar as the hostess moving the show along with raunchy “tongue in cheek” intros relating the artwork to the stage showpieces. Articulate, eloquent, cheeky and and stunningly coquettish La Minouche was a consummate raconteur, a delicious parcel of bawdy vivaciousness, wrapped in boudoir stripes, a bodice that barely held her credentials in check and topped with wayward tumbling red curls beneath an enormous feathered pirate hat!
Les Coquettes is a rousing, sexy, edgy revue of cirque, comedy, song, dance and striptease. Conceived in 2004 by Catherine Skinner and Kathryn Romanow, its’ talented roster offers the following ways to blow your mind:

Classic Striptease
Torch Songs (complete with fire, if you are so inclined!*)
Clown
Stand-Up Comedy*
Dance
Boylesque (burlesque with male performers!)
Aerial Silks*
Aerial Hoop*
Fire Dancing*
Pole Acrobatics*
Live Musicians*
Interactive characters to add atmosphere*
Illusion/Magic

Admit it
Your interested is “piqued” just a little isn’t it?
Over and Out

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Incredible Iceland

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Incredible Iceland

As soon as you set foot in this country you are stepping on part of the planet’s most fragile crust – Iceland is after all the worlds newest country.
With its strange otherworld landscape of jagged black lava outcrops – available with or without the famous moss – you get a visceral sense that the land is literally alive; and in a sense that’s true as Iceland has 130 volcanoes plus the usual suspects; earthquakes and hot spring activity.

And whilst this country may harbour the volcanic catalyst that could speed the demise of our world as we know it, paradoxically one can imagine that the Icelandic landscape might be how the earth looked “in the beginning”.

With its cinematographic wide screen skies, lunar landscape and an enigmatic diffuse light that infuses that landscape with powerful colour and texture no matter what the weather.
The effect is mesmerizing and dramatic; the hues almost like a digitalized re-coloured black and white image. In short the scenery is a contradictory simultaneous mix of sharp and blunted, vivid and muted.

I saw Iceland post snow melt, when the Camouflage greens and russets of the mosses – the first to colonize the lava fields after an eruption – were punctuated with tiny rose and violet saxifrage set off to perfection by rain sodden sun pierced skies. I can only imagine how beautiful the country is in the summer time.

With no particular iconic sight to visit, the whole of the Country is yours for the taking.
Choose from volcanoes and black beaches; hot springs, spectacular waterfalls glaciers, ice caps and ice berg lakes; Northern light spotting; rainbow panoramas, puffins, Viking heritage museums, story telling sessions involving trolls and other Icelandic folklore – the list is endless. If you like horses you will love the pure bred un adulterated breed of Icelandic pony – sweet natured, plucky and sporting almost as varied a colour palette as the landscape they graze on.

Take an organized tour ( Iceland Air do some great value all inclusives) or drive yourself during the spring/summer seasons.
Kick back and spend a few days in Rekjavik, large enough to be smart and cosmopolitan but small enough to be intimate and accessible.
Get inspired by watching the latest Walter Mitty movie directed by and starring Ben Stiller 1/4 of the action is shot on location in Iceland.

And whilst the camera really loves Iceland, in this instance seeing really is believing.
Give your retinas a treat

Over and out

Best Local Theatre Experiences to enjoy in Toronto

Forget the big-ticket Broadway shows that hit our fair city every season. Forget the wonderful Stratford and Shaw Festivals that require a trip out-of-town. Get down to grass-roots level by supporting Toronto’s vibrant local theatre, the bread and butter theatre scene underpinning the big stuff. With an ever-changing menu of plays, and venues; with various theatre companies taking their productions on the road and staging their plays outside in parks or in heritage properties, the possibilities for enjoying highly professional and unique theatre are endless.
This is Theatre which reaches out to embrace you; visceral experiences that you are so close to you could almost be a part of them.

This is Theatre that will give you the rewarding jaw dropping experiences, the unexpected moments, the exceeded expectations. The theatre that runs on very few cast, literally no props and limited funding.
About the List: The list is split between “Roving Theatre companies who do these “Roadshow”performances around the city and Local theatre venues some of whom have their own in-house Production companies.

Art of Time Ensemble
http://www.artoftimeensemble.com
The creation of musician Andrew Burashko, this company makes it onto this list because although primarily music focussed, the company always pushes the boundaries with daring and new multi-media collaborations between film, theatre, dance, poetry and even painting. To watch an “Art of Time Ensemble” performance is to experience something truly unique and exciting. Best seen so far was their interpretation of HG Welles “War of The Worlds’ as an on-stage “Radio Show”

Brant Theatre Workshopshttp://www.branttheatre.com
These operate all around the GTA and seem to focus on performing in historic venues inside and outside the city i.e. Bell Homestead. Biggest claim to fame; their stunning interpretations of “Dracula – A Love Story” traditionally multi-staged throughout the halls, balconies and rooms of Toronto’s Casa Loma” – often with an organist thrown in to “toe” the many footpedals of the Casa Loma pipe organ for extra atmosphere.

Buddies in Bad Times – dedicated to the promotion of Queer Canadian Culture http://www.buddiesinbadtimes.com
Self described as “Canada’s Home to Queer Culture”, Buddies was formed in 1979 and, like most fledgling theatre companies, moved from venue to venue until finally settling down at its present location on Alexander St. in 1994.

Classical Theatre Projectwhttp://ww.classicaltheatreproject.com
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this groups wickedly inventive and hilarious pared down versions of Shakespeare – abridged! All 37 plays in 75 minutes – with craft ale thrown into the ticket price .
Check out “Shakesbeer” at Wychwood Barns

Clay & Paper Theatrehttp://www.clayandpapertheatre.org
Moniker ; Clay & Paper Theatre is not funny and never serious”
A mask/large-scale puppetry company that creates community driven, multi-disciplinary works mostly performed in public spaces and incorporating pageantry and narrative storytelling.
Claim to fame – they rehearse in full public view making their art accessible to all.
Don’t miss their “Night of Dread” held annually every October.

Fu-Gen Asian Canadian Theatre Companyhttp://fu-gen.org
Fu-GEN’s founding members started out in 2002 with the mandate of filling the Asian void they saw in the Canadian cultural landscape.

Humber River Shakespeare Companyhttp://www.humberrivershakespeare.ca
Like Brant Theatre Workshops this tiny theatre company perform all over Toronto and the GTA again mainly in historic settings and open air spaces – they do a terrific version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” each Christmas, also look out for the annual Shakespeare tour, performances of which fan out all over the GTA each summer They also do some innovative one-off productions on the side such as “The Sonnet Show” – whereby five Canadian playwrights create exclusive new works using a 14-line Shakespeare sonnet as inspiration, and with only 14 days to complete a 14-minute play!

Nightwood Theatrewww.nightwoodtheatre
Founded in 1979, Nightwood Theatre is the oldest professional women’s theatre company in Canada. It produces develops and tours landmark, award-winning plays by and about Canadian women.

Shakespeare in the Ruffhttp://www.shakespeareintheruff.com
With minimal props and maximum imagination Shakespeare in the Ruff only performs in the summer season at Withrow Park. Catching a performance by this company is fast becoming a Toronto tradition.
Blanket picnics a must!

Soulpepperhttps://www.soulpepper.ca/ is a rep company founded by actors for actors, they continue to revisit and reinvent the classics, both well-known and obscure, while mentoring and providing much-needed space and production opportunities to new artists. Operate out of The Young Centre for the Performing Arts

The Guild Theatre Festival Company http://www.guildfestivaltheatre.caSeeing The Guild Theatre Festival company “do their stuff” at the quirky Guild Inn gardens high atop Scarborough bluffs is a real treat. Anybody familiar with the cult 1970’s British series “the Prisoner” will be able to relate to the “other world” alternate reality that the Guild Inn Gardens possesses thanks to the presence of an eclectic architectural collection that dominates the landscape. Bits of Toronto’s grandest late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century buildings are scattered amongst the trees and manicured flowerbeds of the Park which is overlooked by the sad and now dilapidated Guildwood Inn an erstwhile arts and crafts colony from the 1920’s. The troupe perform their classics on the open-air Greek stage and despite simple but adequate stage settings (who needs more on a Greek stage) maximizes the use of lighting and gorgeous costumes to heighten the experience. Last Years “Misanthrope by Molière was so glorious that even the privilege of being in the audience for two visits weren’t enough! Wonderful casual folding chair/al fresco picnic atmosphere with soft drinks and snacks on sale and with the Producer/Director and Founder showing you to your seat and making introductions etc.

Video Cabarethttp://www.videocab.com
Utilizing one of the Theatres at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery – see below – Video Cabaret is one of the most unique performance offerings on stage. Performing plays based on Canadian historical events under the umbrella series “The History of the Village of the Small Huts”, the style is a satirical “Spitting Images” (UK television satire) and Restoration theatre. The audience watches the show in a “black box” environment whereby the heavily made-up performers are “lit” and positioned within a curtained stage setting with the entire Theatre in total darkness. Their next production “Trudeau and the FLQ from the series “The History of the Village of the Small Huts – 1963 -1970

LOCAL THEATRE VENUES
Keep a look out for or subscribe to the following entities:

Enwave Theatrewww.harbourfrontcentre.com
Small 2 tiered theatre housing between 350-400 seats, each with a great view of the stage. great sound; ice cream available, accessible by streetcar. Often host Art of Time Ensemble – see above. Cool “aside” about the “EnWave” air conditioning system. It is cooled through a system of pipes that sit under Lake Ontario which draw cold water into a pumping station downtown which then uses a heat exchange system to cool air that is then circulated through the subscriber buildings – uses 75% less electricity than traditional air conditioning. Neat eh?

Passé Muraillehttp://www.passemuraille.on.caAnother example of “Theatre” utilizing heritage buildings. Theatre Passe Muraille is housed in a converted bakery, in fact it has retained some of the original features namely the original loading doors at the front, and the horse stable windows at the back Again an alternate theatre company focussing on Canadian works. Passe Muraille also lends itself out to the comedy improv group “National Theatre of the World” when they need a full 2-tier theatre setting

Red Sandcastle Theatre http://redsandcastlethestre.com                                        Strolling along Queen Street east (north side) near Broadview you will pass a tiny unremarkable storefront with windows plastered with bill posters for past and current performances and events. Look up and you’ll see that you are in front of the Red Sandcastle Theatre. Open the door to a long thin living room sized space flanked on the left by a battalion of around 50 folding chairs in row formation opposite, no,  actually abutting onto a crudely curtained off performance floor. Do not judge the theatre by its “costume”, Red Sandcastle theatre, the brainchild of Artistic Director and founder Rosemary Doyle is the humble home to some of Toronto’s best talent. Look closely at the cast of any play you see here and you will spot the seasoned talent of Toronto shaking it up in back to back plays and DORA nominated performances.

Red One Theatre http://www.redonetheatre.com
Co op based theatre that utilizes neglected and unconventional spaces in which to perform productions that aim to blow the myth of what theatre is or should be. Catching a production here can be tricky as the runs are sometimes as short as a single performance and rarely last longer than a couple weeks.

The Lower Ossington Theatre http://www.lowerossingtontheatre.com                “LOT” a tiny space on Ossington does a great job of promoting itself and the many and varied small-scale productions through Groupon and Buytopia. Famously hosts the irreverent “Avenue Q” a “blue” full-size “Muppet” puppet meets “Sesame Street” production that seems to revisit about 3 times a year.
A is for Absolutely don’t take your kids
B is for Bert and Ernie loosely represented by erstwhile gay room mates Rod and Nicky
C is for Cookie Monster aka Trekkie Bear who er – do not share the same values AT ALL.
D is for DO Like it on their Facebook Page
Terrific irreverent unexpected bum clenching fun…

Canadian Stage companyhttp://www.stlc.com
Base themselves out of three Toronto theatres: The St Lawrence theatre formerly the Bluma Appel Theatre, Berkeley Street and during the summer season at High Park Amphitheatre where they produce not one but two alternating Shakespeare plays on summer evenings between July and September
If you are neither a big theatre goer or lover of Shakespeare, do yourself a favour this summer and be part of the summer magic that is Shakespeare in the Park. Get there early or reserve a cushion online.

The Tarragon Theatrehttp://www.tarragon-theatre.com
Well known for its development, creation and encouragement of new works the Tarragon is one of the main centres for contemporary playwriting in Canada. Over 170 works have premiered here since 1970 which is when the founders Bill and Jane Glassco, converted a pre-war industrial building – once a cribbage board factory into a two stage theatre seating around 230.

Young Centre for the Performing Arts – Distillery – http://www.young-centre.ca
A modern four theatre venue set in the century old “Gooderham and Worts” Distillery District. The Young Centre for the Performing Arts was envisioned by George Brown College and Soulpepper Theatre Company to be a home to the entire Toronto arts community. Anchored by the presence of Soulpepper’s year-round classical repertory and George Brown College’s Theatre School, the Young Centre provides a home for the leading artists and arts organizations. Offers a small cafe service. Excellent for a spot of theatre as easily accessible by streetcar with on-site parking available.
Still running till 8 March 2014 and highly recommended the three part Alan Ayckbourn trilogy “The Norman Conquests”.

Break A Leg.

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The McMichael Canadian Art Collection Kleinburg

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The marvellous McMichael Collection of Canadian Art located in the picture -perfect village of Kleinburg is (relatively speaking) just a short hop north of Toronto.

Located cheek by jowl to the Kortwright Centre – a delicious wilderness of maple trees and trails, capped by an excellent Visitor Centre (with Maple Syrup tapping in the Winter) – a trip to Kleinburg makes for a wonderful day trip.

That said there is enough to do at the Gallery itself to warrant a full day. A gorgeous building designed to blend harmoniously into the surrounding 100 acres of conservation land. With thirteen galleries housing a stunning collection of works by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries, there is a special focus on the works of Tom Thompson, alongside works by First Nations and Inuit. And should your taste be a little more eclectic then the McMichael regularly injects new life into their Gallery spaces by hosting major exhibitions of the works of other artists who have made a contribution to the development of Canadian art.

Currently the Museum is hosting two “guest” exhibitions: a “Mary Pratt” retrospective and “Changing Tides: Contemporary Art of Newfoundland and Labrador”

The Gallery – styled like a huge log cabin perched high up on the valley escarpment is a nook and cranny delight for slumping into a “Stickley” armchair to contemplate the art or to gaze out onto the stunning scenery – on a good day, and from the right window it is even possible to see the CN Tower way out in the distance. A stark reminder in this peaceful serene space of the proximity of our sprawling metropolis.

When Robert and Signe McMichael discovered Kleinburg, they felt that the area evoked the images of the Canadian wilderness they so loved. They consequently purchased ten acres of land in the village and in 1954 – with the help of architect Leo Venchiarutti – built a pioneer-style home (complete with barnboard walls and fieldstone fireplaces) and named it Tapawingo (believed to mean “place of joy”), the forerunner of today’s Gallery space.

Initially the McMichaels started their “Group of Seven” collection with a painting by Lawren Harris called “the Montreal River”. This was followed by a purchase of Tom Thomson’s “Pine Island” and by 1965, their private collection numbered 194 paintings and had been visited by hundreds of people who flocked to the McMichael’s frequent open houses. Realizing they were the custodians of a national treasure, the McMichael’s donated their collection, home and land to the Province of Ontario in return for an assurance that the buildings be maintanied and the art retained and conserved in the spirit of the original intent. Eight months later in July 1966 the “McMichael Conservation Collection of Art” officially opened.

Today the collection has expanded – through purchases and donations (from private individuals and artists) to about 5500 works of art. Despite extensive additions the Gallery retains many of its original rustic features; classically smart it radiates the warmth and charm one imagines the original home to have held almost as if the current custodians had had a hotline to Robert and Signe during all the remodellings.

And when you are done with the art, the restaurant – located in the split level basement – has a beautiful outdoor patio area open during the summer with drop-away views of the forested Humber River valley.

The hiking trails are open year round but occasionally one or two are closed during winter because ice and steep slopes are a treacherous combination.

Before you head out take a moment to admire the totem pole in the Grand Hall, entitled “Where Cultures Meet”, which was carved specifically for the Gallery by artist Don Yeomans.

Beforep embarking upon a trail have a stroll around the new Sculpture Garden and peer through the windows of Tom Thomson`s original log cabin.

website: https://www.mcmichael.com/

Telephone 905 893 1121 or 1888 213 1121

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