All the world is his stage

Our two families met during an elementary school production of “Oliver!” back about 1990. In the musical, our daughter Whitney performed the role of the old thief Fagin and Lisa and Conrad Boyce’s daughter Alida played Mrs. Bumble, the wife of the workhouse caretaker. Of course, the girls were great. I didn’t realize it right away, but Alida probably had an edge. She was coached by a man steeped in theatrical experience as an actor, director, producer and critic. In a note to me this week, Conrad described his own stage debut.

“I played my first role in Grade 1,” he wrote, “a Canadian history pageant (in which I was) Maisonneuve, the founder of Montreal.” [more…]

Going deeper

Birchcliff Theatre in Toronto c.1949.

Birchcliff Theatre in Toronto c.1949.

I think it was my first time at the movies. It was the Birchcliff Theatre on Kingston Road in Toronto. My mom took me. We got popcorn and a soft drink. And the excitement mounted as the movie house lights dimmed, the curtains parted (that’s right, they actually had curtains drawn in front of the screen then) and up came the opening titles as the announcer boomed:

“Walt Disney presents…” and he paused before finishing the sentence, “Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” [more…]

Citizen duty

MEIN_KAMPF_EHe felt compelled to act. He could not hold his tongue. He sensed that if he didn’t step in and say something, all the evils of the past might be repeated. That’s why during a neo-Nazi meeting in the Netherlands about 1960, Heiman de Leeuw demanded entry to the meeting as well as a voice to express his concern.

“You don’t deserve to be living in this country,” he told the supporters of fascism assembled in the hall. “I refuse to keep silent.” [more…]

Acts of liberation

Veteran glider pilot Martin Maxwell and dispatch rider Harry Watts pause at the British Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek, Holland (2015).

Veteran glider pilot Martin Maxwell and dispatch rider Harry Watts pause at the British Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek, Holland (2015).

Early in May, 70 years ago, a Second World War glider pilot named Martin Maxwell tasted freedom for the first time in nearly eight months. On Sept. 17, 1944, during his second airborne operation, he had delivered British soldiers and equipment in a controlled crash landing near Arnhem, Holland, during the Operation Market Garden, only to be wounded and captured days later. But on May 1, 1945, with the Germans surrendering all over Europe, Maxwell regained his freedom.

“A British tank came into our POW camp,” he said, “and we were liberated.” [more…]

Rubble and rabble

On Sunday morning, I picked up one of the Toronto daily newspapers. I saw images of city towers tumbling, apartments smouldering and people wandering aimlessly in the streets. Two days later, I watched breaking news on TV and I saw a dishevelled downtown, stores smouldering and people wandering in the streets.

The first disrupted city was Kathmandu, Nepal. The second was Baltimore, Maryland, in the east-central U.S.

Did it occur to anybody else that civil unrest looks a lot like the aftermath of an earthquake? [more…]

Oh, for more happy landings

I remember as a boy of six or seven, when my mom and dad and sister and I got a lift out to Malton (that’s the former name for Pearson International) Airport for a marathon flight to New York. I was almost jumping out of my skin, I was so excited. I think for a month afterward all I ever said in gatherings of more than two people was:

“You know what I did? I flew to New York on an airplane.” [more…]

Twits and the Twitter-verse

Rachmoninoff genius with her hands on the piano... Valentina Lisitsa on her smart phone, not so much.

Valentina Lisitsa with her hands on a piano, a Rachmaninoff genius … with those hands on her smart phone, not so much.

Under different circumstances, classical piano fans in the Greater Toronto Area by now might be raving about a unique performance they’d seen and heard of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2. They might have joined the thousands of concert-goers who’ve witnessed her brilliance on the piano keys at such venues as Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall. They might have been able to say they saw the once child prodigy now internationally celebrated concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa. Instead, she took advantage of her celebrity to offer her pro-Russian view of Ukrainian politics.

“The new school year begins in Odessa with teachers forced to wear tribal dress, a truly European custom,” she tweeted (in 2014) in an apparent slam at the cultural dress of her native Ukraine. [more…]

When high tech becomes low junk

E_WASTEA couple of Saturdays ago, the district Scouts assembled in a local box store parking lot. They had a large dumpster – open at one end – into which they were piling used electronic equipment that folks around town wanted to discard. By the time a photographer friend and I arrived there about midday for a peek at what was going on, the dumpster was nearly full. He and I began nosing through the discarded electronics to see what the Scouts had collected.

“Old, well-used, communications artefacts,” I said and then asked my buddy, “I wonder whether you and I qualify?” [more…]

Leading by example

Two air force cadet warrant officers and a visitor at the end of a family gathering in Oshawa.

Two air force cadet warrant officers – Declan Lloyd, left, and Adam Boyden – and a visitor at the end of a family gathering in Oshawa.

The evening was winding down. The last of the catering staff at the hall folded up the dining tables and chairs. The flags that had presided over the ceremony all evening had disappeared back into their sheaths. I had autographed the last of some books people had purchased. Among the last of the cadets recognized for his service during the course of the evening approached me with a final request.

“Sir, would you allow us to take a photograph with you?” Warrant Officer Adam Boyden, 19, asked.

“Sure,” I said, “but you can call me Ted.”

He smiled back respectfully, called his friend, Warrant Officer Declan Lloyd to join us in the photograph, and the three of us posed for several smart-phone snapshots before everybody said their last good-nights and left the hall.


The art of listening

OTTAWA_PARLHILL2_MAR2015Last week, I received an email from one of the young reporters in our journalism program at Centennial College. The message proved a bit alarming. We had sent this young man, in his 20s, and one of his female classmates – both senior students in our program – to a national forum in Ottawa. The message said that the conference organizers were preventing our two reporters from gaining access to many of the forum proceedings.

“Apparently media people are not allowed into the meetings,” our reporter told me in his message. “We hope to get into workshops. Wish us luck.” [more…]