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Updated:  April 20, 2006

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Golfer 'With Heart Of A Lion' Dies At College

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Randy Starkman, Sports Reporter

(Apr. 19, 2006) Though just a freshman, 18-year-old Helena Harbridge of Etobicoke quickly became the core and spirit of the University of West Georgia's fledgling golf program.  She struggled at a recent tournament, her emotions getting the better of her. After one errant shot, she cried so hard her contact lenses came out. Barely able to see, she battled through the round, later earning some heartfelt words of consolation from her coach.  "You've been carrying this team," he said. "Let the other ones step up to bat."  Harbridge's teammates will have to carry on without her this week after she died on Sunday. She was found in her room on campus by friends. There were no signs of foul play. An autopsy done by the crime lab at the Georgia Bureau of Investigations did not determine an obvious cause of death. The medical examiner will wait for the results from toxicology testing, which could take as long as 90 days, to make an official determination.  "It just tears your heart out," said Harbridge's father, Paul. "You can't believe it. You would give anything if it could have been you instead of her."  Paul Harbridge said his daughter had severe health problems early in her life — she was in an oxygen tent as a baby; was once rushed to hospital for an asthma attack and also suffered from seizures.

"The thing about Helena is she almost died four times in her life," said Harbridge, adding she'd been strong and healthy for years and that he didn't see any connection between her earlier troubles and her death. "She's a person with some physical frailities but the heart of a lion, of a very good lion."  It was Harbridge's competitive spirit that her teammates at the University of West Georgia cited in making the decision to go ahead and compete in a tournament this week. They felt it was what she would want. Some members of the men's team purchased hats with a maple leaf on them for everyone to wear in her honour.  Harbridge, who was on target to make the academic honour roll and had made the dean's list with a 3.89 GPA in her first semester, was looking forward to return to her summer job in the pro shop at the Weston Golf & Country Club — they had recently put up a sign with her name on the shop listing her as an assistant.  "She loved that whole environment," said her father. "She was a pretty girl and she loved to have pretty golf clothes and I think she had more golf shoes than anybody else ..."  Harbridge had followed her older brother Daniel into golf when she was 10. Her parents, Paul and Isabel, were looking to get her involved in a sport to help combat her asthma.  Harbridge had planned to pursue a U.S. scholarship so she could combine golf and her education.  "It had been her dream to go and play in the States," said Paul Harbridge. "We talked about U of T, but she felt it wouldn't be the same. She had been so healthy, what are you going to do? If we kept her here, we would have been forcing her to stay, overprotecting her. When she went down there, she was following her dream."  A mass is being planned for St. Gregory's Church in Etobicoke (Rathburn and Kipling); funeral arrangements are pending.

Michael Jackson Sails With Two Seas

Excerpt from - Barry A. Jackell, N.Y. and Lars Brandle, London

(Apr. 18, 2006) Michael Jackson has taken a step towards a return to his musical career by signing an exclusive recording agreement with Bahrain-based Two Seas Records. The label is a joint venture between the embattled pop star and Abdulla Hamad Al-Khalifa.   Jackson, who has been in Bahrain since shortly after his June 2005 acquittal on child molestation charges, is said to be working on new material. A new album is tentatively scheduled for release in "late 2007," according to a statement.   "I am incredibly excited about my new venture and I am enjoying being back in the studio making music," Jackson says.   U.K. record executive Guy Holmes has been tapped as CEO of the Two Seas label and will also be tasked with managing Jackson's other business interests.   Holmes will also remain chairman of Gut Records, which last spring scored a massive U.K. hit with Crazy Frog's version of "Axel F," essentially a popular ringtone attached to a manic animated character. Gut has also released music from Tears For Fears, the Wildhearts, Sparks, Fannypack and Aswad.   Holmes' Gut label is already promoting an association with Jackson, as a digital player on its Web site is streaming a Hi Tack remix of his 1983 hit "Say Say Say," subtitled "Waiting for U."  In his earliest solo years, Jackson recorded for Motown, which had been home to his sibling group, the Jackson 5. The group shifted to Epic in the mid-1970s and in 1979 released Jackson's breakout solo album, "Off the Wall." His international superstardom was solidified with subsequent albums "Thriller" (1982), "Bad" (1987) and "Dangerous" (1992.

His final studio set for the Epic was 2001's "Invincible," which debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 and has sold more than 2 million copies in the United States alone, according to Nielsen Soundscan.  Jackson accused the label of poor promotion, which led to a public spat with label parent Sony and its then president, Tommy Mottola. Epic has continued to mine the artist's career with a string of releases since then.  Holmes appointment to effectively manage Jackson's career comes on the heels of reports last week that Jackson, in a move to stave off insolvency, has reached a deal with creditors to refinance more than $200 million in loans secured by his stake in the Beatles' song catalogue.  Jackson had been living off his 50% share of the Sony/ATV Music publishing catalogue, which includes more than 250 copyrights from the Beatles. Jackson purchased ATV in 1985. Ten years later, in a deal orchestrated by his longtime attorney John Branca, Jackson merged ATV with Sony's music publishing division; the entire catalogue is valued at around $1 billion.

India.Arie To Release First New Album In Four Years

Source: Amina Elshahawi, ThinkTank Marketing, E:,

(Apr. 19, 2006) (New York, NY) - One of music’s most honest and inspirational singer/songwriters, 12-time Grammy nominated
India.Arie will release her new album, Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship, on June 27.  Her third studio album, and her first since 2002’s acclaimed Voyage To India, which reached #6 on the Billboard Top Albums chart, the new disc was produced by longtime collaborators Shannon Sanders and Mark Batson (Seal, Beyonce), among others.   The album’s first single, “I Am Not My Hair,” featuring searing remix collaborations with Akon, Swizz Beatz, and Jazze Pha, marks the first time India.Arie has agreed to let other artists remix her work.  Known for her soulful pursuit of unvarnished musical perfection, the new album is a more personal expression containing more intimate songscapes from the artist, duly recognized through the years for her keen insights about the world at large.  India.Arie embarks this month on a heavy promotional schedule for the new disc, including a performance at the National Black Mayors Conference in Memphis, TN on April 29.  She will also be doing an extensive promotional tour in May, with a trek to Europe after Memorial Day to perform select songs from the much anticipated album.   The video for “I Am Not My Hair,” helmed by noted director Barnaby Roper (Moby, Razorlight), premiered on Yahoo! Music last week, and has been embraced by other major video outlets including BET and MTV.

India.Arie emerged onto the music scene in 2001 with her platinum plus debut Acoustic Soul.  A masterful meditation on self-acceptance and womanhood, she was dubbed the new “neo-soulstress” by no less than Newsweek Magazine, praising her as “one of the freshest talents to come out of 2001,” the emotive singer went on to be nominated for seven Grammys for her debut album, and subsequently has won a host of awards including 2 Grammys, 3 NAACP Awards, as well as being recognized by BET, Billboard Magazine, MTV, VH1 and Essence Magazine, among others.   2002’s Voyage To India cemented her rep as a seminal singer/songwriter, netting her 4 Grammy nominations and two statues.  With more than six million albums sold, she   most recently was nominated for her 12th Grammy in the Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals category for her collaboration with Stevie Wonder on the title song of his most recent album, A Time To Love.   India.Arie is also a U.S. ambassador for UNICEF and universally recognized as a tireless champion of social and humanitarian causes around the world.  She recently returned from a trip to South Africa where she observed and assisted humanitarian efforts taking place in the epicenter of the global AIDS crisis.

'I Am Not My Hair' REMIX featuring AKON AUDIO STREAMS:



Black Man Reflects on Being White for Five Weeks

Excerpt from - Kam Williams

(Apr. 19, 2006) *41 year-old
Brian Sparks was a contractor before he and his wife, Renee, and their 17 year-old son, Nick, agreed to appear on FX’s Black White. And now that the show is over, he and his family have returned to Georgia, where he’s back at his former profession, despite all the sudden attention which comes from being on a hit TV program.   This landmark reality series, in which a black family and white family swapped skin colors while living under the same roof for five weeks, enjoyed the highest ratings ever for the premiere of any unscripted cable show. Over the course of the just-completed season, Brian frequently locked horns with Bruno, the white father, a man who got a lot of mileage out of his stubborn refusal to acknowledge that racism exists. Besides the tensions seen on the screen, the show had its share of off-screen controversy, when it came out that the members of the white family had three different last names, and that two of them were actors. Regardless, I found Black White to be fascinating, which is why I tracked Brian down to find out how the experience had affected him.

Kam Williams: Hi Brian, I loved the show and I’m not too proud to admit that I got a little misty-eyed at the end of the last episode.

Brian Sparks: I appreciate it.

KW: What has been the effect of the show on you?

BS: It’s been strange. I learned a lot during the making of the show. And then going back and actually watching it, I picked up some of the things I didn’t know about, because I didn’t participate in all of the events with others in the house. So, I had to sit back and watch them unfold.

KW: What made it strange?

BS: That I had a newfound respect for some, that I felt the same way about others, and that some needed a great learning process to grow more.

KW: Obviously, to distill five weeks worth of taping down to six hours, a lot of footage had to hit the cutting room floor. Did you feel that FX edited the show fairly?

BS: I think they captured me very accurately. I was very impressed with the editing. Of course, you always feel they could’ve pit more in, but given the time frame, and all the footage they went through, I think they did a great job at capturing what I wanted to project. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I think they were fair to everybody comparing what I saw in the house and in the activities I did share with others to what I saw on screen.

KW: Do you think living under the same roof with the Wurgels made a difference?

BS: As you could see, a lot of the heated arguments and blow-ups occurred inside the house while we were discussing things. So, yeah, if we had stayed in separate houses, I think there would have been a slightly different outcome to the show.

KW: how many hours a day did they have the cameras running? And did they use cameramen or tiny unobtrusive cameras?

BS: Cameramen. And the cameras ran from the time we woke up, until the time we went to bed.

KW: What was it like having cameras following you all the time?

BS: After the first week, you kind of forget they’re their, and just go about your daily business.

KW: Since doing the show, have you and your wife, Renee, returned to Atlanta and gone back to your previous jobs?

BS: Exactly.

KW: What is it like to be working as a contractor, and then suddenly have a hit TV show?

BS: [Laughs] It’s great, but there’s an asterisk by it, because everywhere you go, you always run into people who say, “Hey, you’re the guy from Black White,” or “I saw you on Oprah.” So, every day, you have to stop, or pause to talk about the experience. So, it’s back to business as usual, but with a great feeling.

KW: Are you still in touch with Bruno, Carmen and Rose?

BS: No, though we did put in a call to Rose last night after the final episode aired. At the end of the message we left on her answering machine, we told her to tell Bruno and Carmen that we said “Hello.”

KW: Does that mean you came away feeling closer to Rose than to her parents, Bruno or Carmen?

BS: Much more close to Rose than the parents, yes.

KW: Bruno seemed very closed to the notion that racism still exists. Did you think of an experiment like trying to rent a home in a white neighbourhood with him?

BS: That would have been a great one, to do real estate. We had all sorts of scenarios in mind before we arrived in L.A., but once we got going, I had to focus on the things that I had to do. He was such a small part of the equation that I really didn’t have time to focus on him. During the taping, I got to a point where when he couldn’t see the obvious things that I did show him, I felt that he wasn’t going to get it no matter what I did, because he didn’t want to get it.

KW: What did you think of Bruno, the white father?

BS: Bruno was not only flat-out closed-minded, but I don’t think he really wanted to experience anything new, because if he if he acknowledges that there is a difference between the way blacks and whites are treated, then he has to make a change. But he didn’t want to make a change, so that’s why he remained in a state of denial.

KW: During the last episode, you called Bruno a racist. Do you still stand by that?

BS: A lot of people asked me about that. When my phone rang, that was the number one question. I know how harsh an accusation that is, but yes I do have to stand by it, because that was the demeanour that he showed me over the course of the project. I couldn’t be truthful and up front about everything else that went on, but lie when someone asked me if I felt Bruno was racist, when I knew in my heart that I did.

KW: I agreed with you because of the way he defended his wife’s referring to your wife as a “bitch” because it’s supposedly slang that black folks use all the time for their women.

BS: I could live with her having said it, and Renee could forgive her for saying it, but we just didn’t like the fact that they couldn’t admit that it was wrong.

KW: How did you feel about Carmen overall?

BS: I think Carmen came in naïve. She’s learned, and she’s grown during the project, even though Bruno stopped her progress on the set, as far as getting back to us, the Sparks family, and relaying what she’d learned. I had to go through the whole project saying, “I don’t think Carmen’s getting anything out of it either,” when I could later see that, in fact, she was, in going back and viewing the tapes.

KW: I liked that their daughter, Rose, didn’t try to “act black” and that your son, Nick, didn’t try to “act white,” the way that Carmen and Bruno were adopting jive mannerisms, as if some specific language, dress and set of behaviours would make it easier for them to pass.

BS: Yeah, we’re all different. There are no two black people alike and no two white people who are the same. Yes, they have a white skin, and we have a brown skin, and that’s a physical difference that everyone can see, but we’re all unique in our own way.

KW: How is Nick doing? He was facing some challenges having dropped out of school.

BS: He’s in a military academy down in Fort Stewart, Georgia called Youth Challenge Academy. He’s doing very well there. He’ll be graduating June 16th, and that puts him back where he needs to be with his peers, as opposed to where was when he left. He’s in a much better situation than he was staying in the Atlanta area and trying to finish out school.

KW: And how is Renee doing back in everyday life?

BS: She’s glad the show is over, but she’s enjoying it. She’s getting recognized on the street as well. And she works in a predominantly white office. They loved the show and everyone shared the same sentiments that Bruno pretty much messed it up for the whole white race.

KW: I have a question about the make-up, because on TV, Rose is the only person who really looked like she could pass. Of course, that was on TV. In real life, was everybody’s makeup convincing?

BS: From what I heard, to the naked eye, mine was truly convincing, and, of course, the white family’s was truly convincing, because it’s easier to go darker than it is to go lighter. So, the only one whose makeup was kind of suspect was Renee. They had a little trouble with her makeup.

KW: Did any of you have problems with the color coming off?

BS: No, the makeup guys did an excellent job. First, they would put the makeup on, and then a sealer on top. We were smart enough to whisper, “Hey, I think something’s coming off,” into the mike if something was coming undone. We’d then go into a bathroom, and someone would come to meet us there for a touch-up.

KW: When you were undercover as a white bartender, how did you feel hearing locals making racists comments, such as suggesting it was a good neighbourhood because it was white. Were you ever tempted to break character?

BS: That’s interesting, but no, it never crossed my mind to break character because of anything that I heard, although it was shocking and appalling to hear it still being said in this day and age. And it wasn’t like I’d never heard it all before. So, while I did get tight-jawed, nothing ever really got me to a point where I blurted out, “You know what, you fool? I’m really black, blah, blah, blah.” But it was tough from day one, when that young guy said that his parents taught him to go wash after he touched the hands of a black person.

KW: How did you react to that?

BS: I really had to put it in all in perspective. I felt that this project was way bigger than the six of us. I thought, this is America, and that whatever happens, I just have to take it on the chin, and let the country see the outcome.

KW: Are you interested in doing a second season of Black White?

BS: No, because this already has America talking. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t care about the situations, or whether people liked or hated the show, just as long as everybody talked about it.

KW: How did you come to be on the show?

BS: We auditioned for it. I was surfing the Internet through a website that a friend of ours turned me on to, when I stumbled upon across an ad that read, “black family needed for a project.”

KW: About how many families auditioned and why do you think that yours was picked?

BS: I don’t know the exact numbers, but R.J. [Producer R.J. Cutler] says that it was in the hundreds. We were picked based on our personalities, our liberal background, and our willingness to go into the project with an open mind about whatever might happen. They also had to test our skin conditions for makeup. So, a lot of factors went into our selection.

KW: Was there any message that you were trying to deliver on the show that didn’t come across?

BS: A lot of messages got lost because of all the bickering and separatism that went on in the house. The main thing that I wanted America to get out of it was that we’re all different, and we’re all the same. We do have different colors, and there are biases on both sides, but it all boils down to the fact that we’re all God’s children. I like to say we’re God’s human snowflakes, because ever last one of us is unique.

KW: Rose hade a crush on a black guy from her poetry group in the next to last episode, but they never addressed that on the final show.

BS: Yeah, she was liking herself some Devon. You’re right, they never informed you of what the status of their relationship was.

KW: Do you know whether they’re still seeing each other?

BS: Interesting you should ask, because Devon called me last night to discuss some things, and we were laughing about after the last episode. He’s at Howard University now, and said, “I have a girlfriend down here, and I’ve been taking a lot of heat about Rose.”

KW: So, he’s not in touch with Rose.

BS: He left a message on Rose’s machine right before the first episode aired, but he hasn’t heard from her. So, that’s another interesting thing. She often told the poetry group on the show, “I want to keep this going,” but I don’t think she’s had any contact with any of those poetry kids since.

KW: Although I think Rose was very earnest at the time, it now sounds almost as if she was slumming in blackface, a chance to see how the other half lives before conveniently going back to a life of white privilege.

BS: You’re right, because they know that once it’s all over, they can go back to be the privileged ones. I don’t think that Rose, Bruno or Carmen are keeping in contact with anyone they’ve met on the set. Whereas, I still call the makeup guys, and say, “Hey, how are things going?” I still keep in contact with some of the golf buddies that I made. Renee and Debra took a cruise together and are good friends. We have maintained contact with the poetry kids, the producers, with a lot of people. I don’t think they’re in touch with anybody.

KW: The credits say that Bruno’s a school teacher, but In doing my own research on him, I discovered that his last name isn’t Wurgel, but Marcotulli, and that he’s an actor, and that Carmen is a Hollywood casting scout.

BS: That’s interesting, because whereas we auditioned, they knew someone in casting, and that’s how they got set up for their audition.

KW: I have no idea, but you have to wonder whether Carmen might have known the casting director for the show.

BS: She did know the casting director, and that’s how they got introduced to Black White.

KW: And Bruno has been on TV shows like MacGyver, Murder She Wrote, Baywatch, JAG and several movies including Spy Hard, One Tough Bastard, Safety Patrol and Moon in Scorpio.

BS: Wow! I remember Safety Patrol, but I didn’t know he was in all that. And Rose was on a show the Disney Channel.

KW: Wow! Now I didn’t know that. She must have used a different last name, too. How is she doing in college?

BS: She’s not in school anymore. She dropped out of college.

KW: Do you know why?

BS: I don’t know if it’s because she just wasn’t ready, or if she wanted to pursue acting.

KW: Are you thinking of parlaying this into a show-biz career? I’ve interviewed a lot of reality show veterans who feel a pressure to do that because they’re suddenly famous.

BS: as a matter of fact, it is something that I’m entertaining and checking into right now. And both families have already signed a contract to do some speaking engagements at colleges starting in the Fall.

KW: Looks like you and Bruno are linked for life.

BS: Our two families are definitely linked for life. Whenever you ay one name, the other will definitely come out. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t have any animosity towards Bruno whatsoever. I just wish he would wake up and realize that there are differences for blacks and whites.

KW: Is there anything else I should be asking you?

BS: [Laughs] You’ve covered more than anybody else has with me.

KW: Thanks for the time and the interview, Brian. Let’s do another one when you go on tour with the Wurgels in September.

BS: Sounds great. I would definitely love to do that.

KW: And give my best to Renee and Nick, and let them know how much I loved the show.

BS: I really appreciate that.


Ontario Arts Council Upcoming Deadline

Source:  UMAC

The Ontario Arts Council has launched a program to support Ontario's Aboriginal arts professionals and arts professionals of colour who face systemic barriers in the pursuit of their artistic careers. The new Access and Career Development program supports professional development and skill-building opportunities that advance the artistic work and careers of eligible applicants. Arts professionals include artists, arts administrators, arts educators and community animators.

Eligible projects include:

* mentorship with a senior artist/elder
* training program with an organization or school that does not lead to a degree
* arts instruction from a master artist
* professional support for portfolio and support material development
training for artists who want to teach art in the schools
* professional development workshops, seminars and conferences
* mentorship/apprenticeship projects for arts administrators

The first Access and Career Development deadline is May 1, 2006, and the maximum grant amount is $10,000. Visit to download the program guidelines and application form. For more information on the Access and Career Development, contact Wanda Nanibush at 416-969-7454 or 1-800-387-0058 x. 7454.

Canadian Heritage Launches "Music Is My Business!" Website

Source:  UMAC

The Honourable Beverley J. Oda, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, recently announced the launch of the "Music is My Business!" website. This interactive site is designed to assist users as they work within the Canadian music industry. The website will enable users to study the music industry's various revenue streams. For example, it will explain how funds are distributed after the sale of a ticket to a live performance, the broadcast of a piece of music on the radio, or the request of an original musical work by a film producer. The site will also discuss what rights are involved with different transactions and who holds those rights.  Canadian Heritage is currently holding a national contest designed to create a soundtrack for this new website. Contestants have until September 15 to submit their original compositions. The winning entry will be selected by a jury, and its creator will receive a $10,000 contract.  This innovative site will allow artists and music-lovers to find a wealth of interesting and practical information about the ever-evolving Canadian music industry.  Check it out at  


Sam Roberts Shakes Off Sophomore Album Jinx

Source:  Angela Pacienza, Canadian Press

(Apr. 16, 2006) TORONTO — When then-newcomer Sam Roberts picked up the three top trophies at the 2004 Juno Awards, he remarked that making the next record was starting to feel “as heavy as the ring on poor Frodo's shoulders.” After all, the Montreal rocker had been hailed as the Next Big Thing after a critically acclaimed CD, several hit songs and two years of touring sold-out venues. He escaped his own hype and the dreaded second-album jinx with a vacation to South Africa.  “I had to get off the road,” Roberts recalled recently as he made media rounds to talk up his new album, Chemical City. “Then I still didn't feel like doing it for a while. It took a couple of months actually before I even wanted to play guitar.” The trip, however, was just the trick. “The freedom that came with that really unlocked the vaults,” said the 31-year-old shaggy-haired singer-songwriter.  “It was really about stepping out of that routine that had become so entrenched in our day-to-day lives.” With more elaborate arrangements and perceptive lyrics, Chemical City is more lavish than Roberts's debut album, although the freewheeling spirit fans loved about hits Brother Down and Don't Walk Away Eileen has remained intact.  An avid traveller, Roberts said he found himself thinking about the pull of city life when he sat down to write. “This was about travelling and about experiencing different urban landscapes and how people survive in them,” said Roberts of the album's title and theme.

“(Chemical City) was a cross-section of all these different places that we'd been to. There were so many similarities in the life people live there, trying to survive really.  “Why do people feel as if it's going to be the answer to all their problems? (They have a) sense of boundless possibility that you could be anybody, then the harsh reality sets in soon after that it's hard to get by. Your dream ends up been further away than ever sometimes.” He wrestles with those ideas on songs like Bridge to Nowhere and The Gate. In An American Draft Dodger in Thunder Bay he sings about a man “going where I can't be found.” He says there's no truth in the song, other than stories he's read and heard over the years about draft dodgers during the Vietnam war.  Roberts started his musical journey as a child playing the violin at the urging of his parents, immigrants from South Africa. He took up the guitar in high school and started a band.  While studying English at McGill University, Roberts became more serious, playing the local Montreal bar scene. He recorded a demo which earned him some radio play in Ottawa thanks to a friend who mailed the CD out. Eventually, he was signed to Universal Music Canada. He became a household name in Canada after the 2003 release of We Were Born In A Flame. Its success had Roberts and his bandmates — drummer Josh Trager, keyboardist Eric Fares, bassist James Hall, guitarist Dave Nugent — crisscrossing the country, finding welcoming arms all along the way. Despite that success, Roberts has yet to find international notoriety like some of his peers. While he's not dwelling too much on breaking into other markets, Roberts said it's important the band have an audience outside Canada. “Not in a world domination sense but in the sense that we have more places to play than 20 cities in Canada,” said Roberts, who — despite his billing as a solo artist — makes constant references to his bandmates.  In addition to a slew of print, radio and TV interviews, Roberts started a tour Friday which will take him across the country and to parts of the U.S.  Many of the Canadian dates, including gigs in Ottawa and Edmonton, sold out in a few minutes.  He'll also join superstar rapper Kanye West on Tuesday for a concert special being filmed by MTV Canada. It will air on CTV and MTV affiliates around the world at a later date. Through it all, Roberts seems bent on staying practical about all the hoopla. “The emphasis that you put on the release, you do all the press, but really it's just a new bunch of songs,” he said. “It's important to stress that. This is just another record of hopefully many, many records that I get to make in my lifetime.”

Janet Jackson To Release New Album Fall 2006

Source: Capitol/Virgin Music Canada

(Apr. 19, 2006) Super hot producer Jermaine “JD” Dupri and legendary hitmakers Jimmy “Jam” Harris & Terry Lewis are joining their extraordinary talents to produce music icon Janet Jackson’s upcoming release, tentatively titled 20 Years Old.  Set for release in the Fall of this year, the collaboration between Dupri, Jam & Lewis is the first time three of the hottest and most successful producers in music history have merged their incredible gifts and musical ears to produce one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2006!  Together, Dupri, Jam & Lewis have worked with a who’s who list of music superstars from Mariah, Usher, Aretha Franklin, Gwen Stefani, Heather Headley, Yolanda Adams, Nelly, Bow Wow, TLC, Mary J. Blige, Jagged Edge, Jessica Simpson, Monica, New Edition, Run-DMC, Alicia Keys, Ludacris and Whitney Houston and collectively garnered five Grammy awards and 31 Grammy nominations. Lending their genius to the new Jackson album can only set the stage for chart-topping, multi-platinum success.  Dupri, also President of Urban Music at Virgin Records, is the album’s executive producer and excited about working with Jam & Lewis.  “Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are musical powerhouses,” says Dupri.  “Our individual success have been unparalleled and have kept music fans bouncing to our beats and singing our songs for years.  The world has no idea what they are about to experience – Janet has the best production trio possible – and I guarantee, we will deliver!”

Janet Jackson Says Old Songs Leaked To Net

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Apr. 16, 2006) New York -- That new Janet Jackson music making the rounds on the Internet is apparently not as new as you might think. The pop superstar, who is working on a new album, says someone has leaked songs she recorded at least two years ago when working with hit-making producer Rich Harrison. At least one song has already made the rounds, titled Put It on Me. "A couple of years ago I recorded some tracks with Rich Harrison. But none of that music will appear on my new album," Jackson said in a statement yesterday. "I have a tight rein on all of the music that has been recorded." Jackson's new album, tentatively titled 20 Years Old, is expected to be released later this year. AP

Singer's Big Wheel Keeps On Turning

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Angela Pacienza, Canadian Press

(Apr. 19, 2006)
Aaron Pritchett was a wannabe actor hanging out at a local karaoke night when he inadvertently found his musical calling.  "The guy that was there running the show hired me on the spot (to run a karaoke night). It was my first time singing in public," recalled Pritchett. "I was so nervous."  Fast-forward more than a decade and the Vancouver singer is warming up audiences for country superstars like Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson.  And with this week's release of Big Wheel, Pritchett is poised to headline big shows himself, and perhaps even break through to the lucrative U.S. country market.  Pritchett, 34, said the album title came from the classic children's riding toy.  "You're more than likely going to try riding a bike ... and you do fall down and get back up," he said. "That's what you do throughout life."  It's a good metaphor for the music industry, too.  Since his days as a karaoke singer, Pritchett, a father of three, has been slogging away at his music career.  About a year after his karaoke experience, he entered a local talent search. He lost the competition but was inspired to form a band. He spent a decade playing clubs before saving enough cash to record his first album.  He didn't find success until his second album, 2003's Something Goin' on Here, which he also funded himself. The CD gave him a hit in Canada with "My Way" and landed him two Canadian Country Music Awards.  Now, on his third album, the independent artist is ready to become a household name.

The first single, the title track "Big Wheel," has hit Top 5 status on Canadian country radio.  "Some of these new guys, it's like one quick song ... Aaron's not like that. Aaron's worked really hard. He's been around. He's paid his dues," said Larry Donohue, music director at an Edmonton radio station, where "Big Wheel" is currently at No. 1.  "He's getting better all the time. He's poised. He's ready."  To create the album, Pritchett spent some time in country music hub Nashville teaming up with various songwriters, including Deric Ruttan, the Bracebridge, Ont., songwriter who penned Dierks Bentley's smash hit "What Was I Thinking."  The result is an 11-song album filled with freewheeling country songs about love, beer and the open road.  There's also an adventurous cover of The Band's "The Weight" where Pritchett injects the classic ditty about Fanny with a heavy dose of country using some fiddle and banjo.  Pritchett admitted that even the studio musicians hired to perform on the album thought he was crazy for trying to rework such a well-known track.  "They looked at each other and in hesitation said, `I don't know. Should we do this?' It was almost sacrilegious to do this song," he recalled.  "I played it at home quite often just acoustically. That's what gave me the idea to record it."  While many are expecting an international breakthrough for Pritchett, he's content to just continue touring Canada like he's been doing for years now.  "Everybody wants to get down there (U.S.). It's their idea of `making it.' I'm not as worried. I'd rather just tour around Canada," he said. "It's a viable market in my mind."

Christina Milian's So Amazin' Produced By Cool & Dre

Excerpt from

(Apr. 16, 2006)
At twenty-four, stunning songstress Christina Milian understands all too well what it takes to be a star.    "When it came time for me to work on my third album, SO AMAZIN’, I knew that I needed to record material that had a realness," explains Christina. "I still wanted to make dance tracks, but I also needed to express more of myself at the same time."    Using the blueprint of rhythmic icons Janet Jackson and the late Aaliyah, the singer/songwriter decided that the first step towards musical difference would be finding a team of producers who could musically transfer her inner feelings into outer hotness. It was during this period that Christina first met Cool & Dre.   Listening to Milian’s first single "Say I," you quickly hear that she made the right choice. "I wanted to make a record that would be an inspiration to both me and my fans," Christina says, whose 2002 self-titled debut (which featured the #1 Hot 100 Single "A.M. to P.M.") and last year’s Grammy-nominated IT’S ABOUT TIME were both successful.    From the moment the hypnotic opening of "Say I" begins to soar and Miss Milian wails, "I got the urge to scream out," one realizes that this is a brand new day in dance music. More than just a hit song, "Say I" is an uplifting anthem that also features the southern drawl of celebrated rapper Young Jeezy on the hook. With its orchestrated music, the high energy of "Say I" is pure sonic caffeine.   Having appeared in such popular films as Be Cool (alongside John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Steven Tyler), Love Don’t Cost A Thing and Man Of The House (with Tommy Lee Jones), the young star also has a leading role in the upcoming movie Pulse (out July 14th). After filming, she took a break away from the camera for the months it took her to finish SO AMAZIN’. "I was so committed to this project, making it my number one priority," Christina recalls. "It was important that I be focused on music, so while I was working I passed on other films and reading scripts. It was more important that I make a hot album." Without a doubt, she has succeeded.

"I knew from the beginning when I started working with Cool & Dre that I had found something special," Christina says of the Florida duo that have constructed hit singles for 50 Cent and The Game. "Our relationship was so smooth, Cool & Dre wound up producing the entire record, something that is rare these days." In fact, it was Antonio “ L.A. ” Reid who suggested she work with Cool & Dre, while still allowing Christina space to be herself.    Traveling down south to Florida ’s Circle House Studios, the producers talked to Christina for hours. "It was really about us getting to know each other," says Cool. "Learning about her likes and dislikes, as well as a recent break-up that was bothering her. We really dug her vibe. From day one, we knew Christina was special. In the first few days we knocked out four songs."    Falling in love with Miami , there were also a few chance encounters that lead to wonderful collaborations. "We were working on a song called “Who’s Gonna Ride,” when Dre ran into Three 6 Mafia in the hallway. The song has a kind of Dirty South feel, so we just asked them if they wanted to be down."   The song "Gonna Tell Everybody," opens with a soothing piano and offers teardrop-laced lyrics about the aftermath of heartbreak. "I moved on," she declares at the end of the slow song. "I just felt a need to express myself on “Gonna Tell Everybody.”  It was truly about thinking that I had something good, what happens when it’s over, and going forward with my life. When I had conversations with Cool & Dre, that relationship was one thing that kept coming up. I knew it was going to be something I needed to get off my chest."   A songwriter since her teen years, Milian has penned hit tracks for Jennifer Lopez ("Play") and herself, but it wasn’t until the SO AMAZIN’ sessions that she felt any real growth. "Dre told me, ‘there are no rules.’ That’s all he said, but believe me, it was the best advice," Christina laughs. "Sometimes things can be so simple, you don’t know why you never thought of it before."

Taking us higher, the title track "So Amazin’” is a slice of booming club life. With its bouncy flow that feels electro-sleek and street corner grimy at the same time, "So Amazin’" lives up to its title. "I think this is the sexist song on the record," says Christina. "I can’t wait until we make a video for that one."   Proudly displaying the various sides of her personality, SO AMAZIN’ proves that singer Christina Milian is ready to be taken seriously as an artist. Welcome to the next level.  Christina Milian's Official Site:; MySpace:

'Say I' featuring Young Jeezy AUDIO




WATCH the Video to 'Say I' featuring Young Jeezy Here!

Music To The Ears Of Nova Scotia

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Robert Everett-Green

(Apr. 18, 2006) HALIFAX — Rodney MacDonald really knows how to party, and I can tell you that without even having seen him do it. He and all his extended family are well known in Nova Scotia for their skills at making a festive occasion go, whether by playing a nimble strathspey on fiddle or piano, or taking the floor for some real Cape Breton step-dancing. MacDonald also knows a lot about that other kind of party, the one that puts up candidates, jostles for power and tells you to think twice about what those fellows on the other side are saying. In February, MacDonald became the premier of Nova Scotia, a province where he has given many stump speeches and played innumerable dances in pubs. He's probably the most professional musician ever to hold such high office in Canada. Bob Rae played some piano while premier of Ontario, as did David Peterson, but neither of them ever made a living from music, or were nominated for two East Coast Music Awards, or cut a record for the Smithsonian Institution's Folkways Recordings label.

MacDonald has done all that and still had time to become premier at age 34, which makes him the youngest of any sitting Canadian premier. He may be the first candidate for any party's provincial leadership (he succeeded the retiring premier, fellow Progressive Conservative John Hamm) to while away the hours between convention ballots by playing fiddle tunes at a ceilidh, or traditional Gaelic dance. "The Saturday of the leadership vote, we had a ceilidh after the first vote, and the pub was packed," he said. "It didn't matter what side you were on, it was just come and have fun. Then we had another party that night, after I won." Did the reels and jigs help tip the voting his way? "I hope so," he said. "They certainly enjoyed it." Encountered at his Halifax office on a Saturday afternoon, the quiet-spoken MacDonald seems a man of few airs, except for those you might hear played on his violin's four strings. He has been in government for almost seven years, in a range of cabinet portfolios, and he still considers a night playing music with family and friends in his Cape Breton hometown of Mabou one of the essential ingredients of a good life. "If we get together at any celebration, there's fiddle music all the time, step-dancing all the time," he said. "Our family has tended to be dance players and composers. I'm a composer. I don't know how many I've composed, maybe 40 or 50." He learned to step-dance and play the fiddle as a matter of course, picking up the latter from his uncle Kinnon Beaton, of the Beaton clan of traditional Cape Breton musicians. There have been generations of musical Beatons and MacDonalds, playing and promoting and publishing the music of Gaelic Nova Scotia. Two years ago, the Smithsonian documented part of their influence on a CD called The Beaton Family of Mabou: Cape Breton Fiddle and Piano Music. Rodney MacDonald played on the disc. Just to see him hold a violin is to know that his music is the kind that is handed down through the generations, without many detours into halls of formal training. He props the neck on his left wrist, wraps his thumb around almost to the strings, and holds the bow with just his thumb and forefinger, well up from the frog (the base). It's all wrong from a classical point of view, but it's just right for a Cape Breton jig. The music skips and sings, with deft strokes of his bowing arm, and quick movements on the fingerboard to flick out the ornaments that grace each line.

That he and others have been able to keep the tradition healthy is a minor miracle. There was a time during the seventies when it looked as if Nova Scotia was forgetting its inherited arts, along with its Gaelic. In MacDonald's view, the two are inextricably linked. On that subject, he's a conservative in every sense. "What people often don't realize is that there's a deep connection between the Gaelic language, the fiddle tunes and the step-dancing," he said. The rhythms of the language should be clear in the performance of a good fiddler or step-dancer, he said, or in the patter of puir a beul -- the "mouth music" that the Scots invented centuries before hip hop discovered beat-boxing. His part of the province is thick with Rankins and MacMasters, many of whom are neighbours or relations. He briefly played with Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac, years before the latter entered his Helter's Celtic phase. "We had a group called the Highland Classics," MacDonald said. "We played ceilidhs together. It wasn't on very long, because we were all doing our own things. . . . Ashley in those days was always dressed to the hilt, with a shirt and tie and dress pants. He's a tremendous musician, I think a lot of him. He got into a whole other line of music and entertaining after that," he said with a sly smile. MacDonald mainly performed with his cousin Glenn Graham (as Rodney and Glenn), playing six days a week in the summers during and after his studies in education at St. Francis Xavier University. They played festivals, toured eastern Canada, the United States and Scotland, and made a CD (Traditionally Rockin') that received two ECMA nominations in 1998. The following year MacDonald ran for office for the first time, and by August, 1999, he was a member of the provincial cabinet. Given the uncertainty of political life, he didn't really slow down his musical career till the votes were in and counted. "During the whole election campaign, I was going to dances and playing because I didn't know if I'd be successful," he said. The lessons he learned as a working musician served him well on the campaign and in the legislature, not least because music is a precarious trade, like fishing or carpentry. "I know what it's like to have to be entrepreneurial and not necessarily know where your next job is coming from," he said. "I've been on a few stages, and that's helped. I know how to put in the time to practise and be prepared. As a politician, if you're not prepared when you're going up on stage, you haven't done your homework and won't perform well."

But the competitive side of politics has no counterpart in MacDonald's musical experience. He must have had to vie for gigs now and then, but playing the other fellow down isn't part of Cape Breton's traditional music culture. "One thing about Cape Breton fiddling is that you never have competitions," he said. "The whole idea of it is the joy of it. We like to feed off each other. It's the same with step-dancing. I've never gone into a step-dancing competition in my life, nor would I." Politics runs almost as deeply in MacDonald's family as music. His father Alex Angus was a municipal politician in Mabou for 18 years, and his grandmother was related to Allan MacEachen, a stalwart in Pierre Trudeau's federal cabinets. The father of his cousin Glenn Graham was formerly the Liberal MLA for the same Inverness riding that MacDonald now represents for the Conservatives. Now that he's premier, he could still see himself playing a dance now and then. "It's important for me not to shy away from who I am," he says. "When they had a concert for tsunami relief at the Metro Centre [in Halifax], I got involved and played with some of the other fiddlers. I was a minister then, but I'd still do that today. I think that's what the premier should be doing, getting involved with the people. If I walked into a pub and there was a fiddler I knew playing a tune, and if he asked me to give him a break, sure, I'd jump up and play. That's normal where I'm from." He remains sensitive to music and cultural issues, probably more than most premiers. He once taught in a Mi'kmaq school in Chapel Island, and led a regional music strategy and Gaelic initiative program while minister of culture and heritage. And he won't let the tradition of his forebears fade in his own household, where his young son has begun to learn step-dancing, literally following in his father's footsteps. As the man says, that's normal where he's from.


19th Round Of Radio Starmaker Fund

Source:  UMAC

Radio Starmaker Fund (RSF) has announced that the deadline for its 19th round of funding is Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 5:00 PM ESTRSF has made some changes/revisions, so be sure to visit to review the newly revised "Eligibility Requirements", "Funding Rules" and "Frequently Asked Questions" sections. You can also contact the Applications Manager, Jerry Leibowitz (, who will help you with your questions and guide you through the application process should you need assistance. Only the very strongest applications will be funded.

Ashanti Cancels Concert After Cousin Killed

Excerpt from The Toronto Star 

Apr. 16, 2006) JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) — American Rhythm and Blues star Ashanti pulled out of a concert in Johannesburg late Saturday after her cousin was killed by a drunken unlicensed teenage driver.  Quinshae Snead, 20, was on her way to Ashanti's hotel to get something for the Grammy award-winning singer before the concert when a speeding car hit the back of the car she was travelling in, police said.  Snead was flung from the car, which rolled over, and was thrown into the path of another car in the opposite lane.  The 17-year-old driver of the car that hit Snead's was arrested for drunken driving and hospitalized. He was driving his mother's car without a license, metro police spokesman Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said.  The driver of the car in which Snead was riding was also injured and taken to a hospital.  Ashanti, who hails from Long Island, New York, and whose full name is Ashanti Douglas, sold more than six million copies of two albums, including Ashanti, her debut, which garnered a Grammy Award in 2003 for best contemporary R&B album.  She was reportedly close to her cousin and the two lived together.

U2's ‘One' Voted Britain's Favourite Lyric

Source:  Associated Press

(Apr. 16, 2006) LONDON — The Irish band U2 has given Britain its favourite song lyric, according to a survey released Monday. The line “One life, with each other, sisters, brothers” from the 1992 song One topped a poll conducted by music channel VH1. Runner-up was the downbeat “So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry, and you want to die” from The Smiths' How Soon is Now. A line from Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit — “I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us” — came third. Bob Marley's Redemption Song and Coldplay's Yellow took fourth and fifth places. The top 10 was a mix of the affirmative and the acerbic, ranging from Robbie Williams' uplifting Angels — “And through it all she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection, whether I'm right or wrong” — to Radiohead's sour Creep. More than 13,000 people participated in the poll on the station's website, choosing from a list of 100 lyrics selected by music industry figures.

Kelly Rowland Gets Personal On Solo LP

Excerpt from

(Apr. 18, 2006) *
Kelly Rowland is attempting to work out some personal thangs on her new album “My Story: Kelly Rowland,” due in stores July 11 via Columbia/Sony Urban Music.  The former Destiny’s Child member, who previewed the entire CD for members of the media last week, told Billboard that the majority of the songs are about her personal relationships.  "I just went in the studio and just did me, because I think that's when you get your best product," Rowland, 25, tells Billboard. "That's when it's just natural. It just flew out of my mouth and came out in lyrics [and] I had great writers involved."  Rowland’s second solo effort features writing and production from singer/songwriter Tank, while guest appearances from Snoop Dogg, Shawnna and Remy Ma are still in the works. Rowland is also mulling the idea of adding Houston rappers to the project. “This album is very different from the last record. It was so alternative and this record is urban," she said. "I wanted to go back to my roots [because] that's where I started and that's what feels natural to me."

Lionel Richie Rocks Libya

Excerpt from

(Apr. 18, 2006) *"Libya I love you, I'll be back," Grammy-winning singer
Lionel Richie told an audience of fans and more than 1,000 senior Libyan officials and diplomats during a concert held Saturday in the country. The event marked the 20th anniversary of a U.S. raid on the North African country, and took place in front of the bombed-out home of its former leader, Muammar Gaddafi. On April 15, 1986, U.S. forces bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in retaliation for what then President Ronald Reagan called Libyan complicity in the bombing of a discotheque in Berlin a month earlier – in which three people, including a U.S. serviceman, were killed. The event marked one of the lowest points in the decades Libya spent being viewed as an outlaw state that supported terrorism. According to Reuters, organizers recruited Richie in hopes that his worldwide star power would underscore the sincerity of Libya's three-year-old attempt to make good with the outside world, bury past enmities and promote a message of goodwill.  Richie brought the house down with a menu of his greatest hits. Reuters reports: “Radiating charm and wit, [he] brought the soberly dressed audience repeatedly to its feet. He won laughs when he joked that some in the audience knew the words to his songs better than he did, and drew shouts of ‘thank you’ and ‘we love you’ from some in the crowd.” Gaddafi’s ruined home was kept in its ravaged state to memorialize the overnight attack in which an estimated 40 people were killed, including Gaddafi's adopted daughter Hanna. The concert was named "Hanna Peace Day" in honour of the child, one of several infants killed in the strike.

Obie Trice Back For 'Seconds' On New CD

Excerpt from - Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.

(Apr. 18. 2006) Detroit rapper Obie Trice will release his second album, "Second Round's on Me," May 30 via Eminem's Shady Records imprint. A video for first single "Snitch" featuring and produced by Akon can be streamed from Trice's site. The artists performed the track on last week's episode of the hit drama "CSI: Las Vegas."  In addition to Eminem, "Second Round's on Me" also features guest appearances from Detroit rapper Trick Trick, 50 Cent, Nate Dogg and Trey Songz. Production was supplied by Eminem, Alchemist, Freedwreck, JR Rotem and 9th Wonder.  The new album is the follow-up to 2003's "Cheers," which debuted at No. 5 on The Billboard 200 and has sold 900,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.  On Dec. 31, Trice was shot in the head while driving on a Detroit freeway. He survived, but the bullet remains lodged in his skull. Fellow Eminem colleague Proof was shot to death last week after an argument at a Detroit bar.

Hip-Hop Stars Unite For Benefit Show

Excerpt from - Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.

(Apr. 18. 2006)
Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, MC Supernatural, the Beat Junkies, Madlib, Money Mark and MF Doom have signed on for a May 25 benefit show for DJ Shadow's art director Keith Tamashiro. The event will be held at Los Angeles' Mayan Theatre, with proceeds to benefit Tamashiro's recovery from a near-fatal brain aneurysm.  DJ Shadow will be playing his first show in nearly four years that evening, in tandem with Cut Chemist. The pair will spin material from their 1999 collaborative album "Brainfreeze," a highly sought after collectable featuring rare soul and funk singles.  As previously reported, DJ Shadow is nearing completion on his first new album since 2002's "The Private Press." First single "3 Freaks" can be streamed from his Web site, where he recently wrote, "Some have said 'Press' was an inward-looking album. If that's true, than this album is the opposite, and that suits me just fine."  Shadow will also perform at the U.K.'s Wireless Festival, to be held June 23 in London and June 24 in Leeds.

Does Rap Music Lead To Drug Problems?

Excerpt from

(Apr. 19, 2006) *Folks who listen to
hip hop are more prone to abuse drug and alcohol than listeners of other music genres, according to new data collected from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation's (PIRE) Prevention Research Center.  Their study of more than 1,000 community college students age 15-25 showed that rap was consistently associated with alcohol use, potential alcohol use disorder, illicit drug use and aggressive behaviour. The research also found that young people who listen to reggae and techno use more alcohol and illicit drugs than listeners of other music, with the exception of rap.  Rap topped all other music categories in association to alcohol and drug use and aggression, and researchers note that the results had nothing to do with the respondents' gender or race. "People should be concerned about rap and hip hop being used to market alcoholic beverages, given the alcohol, drug and aggression problems among listeners," said lead author Meng-Jinn Chen, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Center. "That's particularly true considering the popularity of rap and hip-hop among young people." Students in the study were questioned on their music listening habits, alcohol use, illicit drug use and aggressive behaviours, such as getting into fights and threatening others. The study, titled "Music, Substance Use and Aggression," appears in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.


Chewitel Ejiofor Slips Into Something Less Comfy

Excerpt from

(Apr. 17, 2006) *Judging by the critical acclaim heaped upon British actor
Chewitel Ejiofor for such films as “Inside Man,” “Four Brothers” and “Dirty Pretty Things,” the days of folks on this side of the Atlantic butchering his name should soon come to an end. “It’s pronounced CHEW-ih-tell Ed-gee-OH-for. It’s every single syllable,” the 31-year-old from London told us recently. You’ve seen the face before – as the infamous Victor Sweet in “Four Brothers,” Detective Bill Mitchell opposite Denzel Washington in “Inside Man,” Frank Wills in Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me.” Soon, his name will be as familiar as his face. With a handful of acting accolades already tucked under his arm – the Jack Tinker Award in 2000 for Most Promising Newcomer, a Laurence Olivier Theatre Award nomination in 2001 for Best Supporting Actor – the compelling thespian of Nigerian parentage sashayed into theatres over the weekend as a Naomi Campbell-looking transvestite in “Kinky Boots,” based loosely on the true story of a man (Joel Edgerton) who reluctantly takes over his late father’s sinking shoemaking business. He finds help in Ejiofor’s character Lola, a spirited female impersonator who knows her way around some Jimmy Choos. It was a role that offered Ejiofor an appetizing challenge. “Couldn’t quite turn away. I loved the script and the part, I just thought it was an irresistible combination between this middle England conservative world and this extraordinarily flamboyant, Soho transvestite,” he said.  Film reviewers have made a point to put Ejiofor’s portrayal of Lola in a class beyond the stereotypical man-in-drag performance that usually comes with a lesser actor in such a role. Ejiofor says his journey toward believability – with its required manoeuvring in heels and women’s accessories – was not easy.

“It was pretty complicated,” he admits. “Obviously, I’d been aware of high heels and aware that there are certain complications and it could be quite difficult, but I never really appreciated it in any kind of real sense until the first time that I put on 4 ½ inch heels and panicked about the nature of actually trying to do a film [in them], and whether it was going to be realistic.”  “The most painful part of it was something that I hadn’t even considered – the clip-on earrings,” he adds. “I had no idea that if they catch a lobe, they’re holding on. It was fun and at times painful.”  From the beginning, the look of Lola was carefully and meticulously planned through strategizing sessions between Ejiofor, director Julian Jarrold, hair and makeup artist Trefor Proud and costume designer Sammy Sheldon. “I had been in so many fittings and discussions and costumes and different hair looks and so on, had seen so many pictures and books and talked to a number of different drag queens, I think by the time we’d actually created [Lola] and were actually going to do it I was relieved we got to a place that we really kind of enjoyed,” said Ejiofor. “It was an exciting time when we all finally put Lola together, and the kind of look, attitude and vibe was working.” In addition to working his stilettos and earrings with ease, Ejiofor also had to belt tunes for the role. Lola just happens to be a singing drag queen. “Very early on, we had conversations on whether Lola would sing along to a Tina Turner soundtrack or would be singing the songs herself,” he explains. “And I came to the conclusion that the latter was the way we were going to do it, because Lola’s very much an artist in her own right. I hadn’t had any experience doing that before, but I felt that I was very happy to work on the numbers a lot and really kind of rehearse them and get them to a place where I was happy with.” Lola’s tunes in the film include "I Want to Be Evil," "Cha Cha Heels," "Whatever Lola Wants" and – surprise – "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." His voice may not be as powerful as Sylvester’s, or even RuPaul’s, but Ejiofor is perfectly okay with that. “I felt that Lola doesn’t have to necessarily be the greatest singer in the world,” he explains. “What she has to be is incredibly confident about what she has, and really offer that and really own the space; own the stage.” …Like the actor himself.

Kiefer's Second Chance

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
John Hiscock, Special To The Star

(Apr. 17, 2006) LOS ANGELES—There were two compelling reasons for
Kiefer Sutherland to give up the chance of a break and instead use his time off from the hit television series 24 to co-star in the action thriller The Sentinel.  One was the chance to work with Michael Douglas, whom he has long admired and who produced one of Sutherland's early films, Flatliners, 16 years ago.  The other was that The Sentinel was going to be filmed in Toronto, giving him the opportunity to return to the city where he lived for 10 years and to which he has retained strong emotional and familial ties.  His grandfather, Tommy Douglas, was the first socialist premier of Saskatchewan from 1944-1961. His father, the actor Donald Sutherland, was born in New Brunswick and his mother, actress Shirley Douglas, and his twin sister Rachel still live in Toronto. Although Kiefer was born in England and has spent most of his life in Los Angeles, his links to Toronto run deep.  "It was fantastic," said Sutherland, reflecting on the four months he, Michael Douglas, and co-stars Eva Longoria and Kim Basinger spent in Toronto last summer.  "I go back whenever I can, and I'll hop on the subway and ride back to Victoria Park where I spent a lot of time as a kid, and I just walk around there. I think we all have some kind of nostalgic connection to our past that's been romanticized, but for whatever reason I believe I can go back to Toronto and get grounded in an afternoon. Toronto represents that for me."  In The Sentinel he and Douglas play U.S. Secret Service agents who uncover what appears to be an inside job to assassinate the president at the G-8 summit in Toronto.  "I am a huge fan of Michael, not only as an actor but as a producer," said Sutherland, talking in a Beverly Hills hotel suite. He was relaxed and amiable and talked freely of the ups and downs that have characterized both his personal and professional lives.  "Michael and I also have very similar career lines, although I think he's been more successful over the years than me. He's one of the few actors I know who did a television series, Streets Of San Francisco, and then managed to carve out a phenomenal film career as an actor and producer. In many ways Michael has the career that I would like to shape mine after."

Sutherland isn't doing so badly in following in Douglas's footsteps. For the past five years he has starred as agent Jack Bauer in 24, which he also co-produces, and he has just signed a three-year, $30-million deal which will keep him with the show at least until 2009, and makes him one of the highest-paid actors in television.  There are also plans for him to star in a feature film version of 24, which is likely to begin shooting next spring.  "Five years ago if you would have said I would be winning awards and starring in a hit show I would have said you were dreaming," he said. "I guess this is my second chance. This time around I'm not going to take any moment of it for granted because I know what it feels like to almost lose it all."  Although he has appeared in more than 50 movies, many of the roles were small and the movies less than successful, so The Sentinel marks his transition from a television actor into a major movie star in the same way Douglas, also the son of an actor, moved from The Streets Of San Francisco to the big screen in The China Syndrome more than 25 years ago.  To reach this point in his career Sutherland has travelled a long and often bumpy road, beginning when he was a pupil at St. Andrew's College in Aurora, north of Toronto, and saw a production of Anything Goes.  Instead of jeering, as he and his schoolmates had intended to do, he was impressed. Then he saw his mother in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and decided he wanted to act.  He ran away from school and, when he was 16, landed a role in the Canadian feature The Bay Boy, which was filmed in Glace Bay, N.S., and for which he was nominated for a Genie award.

The following year he moved to Los Angeles and lived out of his car for a few months before moving into a house with fellow struggling actors Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Downey Jr. and Billy Zane.  He landed a succession of film roles, some good, many not so good and, eventually, disillusioned, he returned to Toronto where he performed with his mother in The Glass Menagerie. He then retreated to a cattle ranch he bought in California's Santa Ynez Valley, took up steer roping and travelled the rodeo circuit, winning a number of competitions.  Then the script for 24 came along and he decided to give it a try. "It came at a time when I wasn't working very much and wasn't doing the kind of films or getting the kind of opportunities I wanted," he recalled. "So when something like 24 comes along you really focus on taking advantage of the opportunity and that's what I did."  His private life has not been so successful. Twice married and divorced, to Camilla Kath, with whom he has an 18-year-old daughter Sarah, and Canadian Kelly Winn, he also was rejected by Julia Roberts just days before they were due to marry. She instead went off with his then-best friend, Jason Patric.  Although he has had a series of girlfriends, he claims he is currently unattached, blaming the 14-hour days he works on 24. "One of the only problems with the show is that it's so labour- intensive that it's very hard to be able to find the time to develop a relationship with someone in a proper way," he said.  "Maybe down the line I'll be able to get it together."  With that in mind he has decided to take his first vacation since 24 began. "It's been over five years since I've taken a break, so now I am going to actually take one," he said. "I've been so focused on the work that I think maybe I'm missing some balance in my life."

Music Shapes Wenders Films

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Geoff Pevere, Movie Critic

(Apr. 18, 2006)
Wim Wenders is one of the few filmmakers in the world who makes movies for the ears as much as the eyes.  Born in a mining town in Germany 61 years ago, Wenders grew up enthralled by the postwar sounds of American and British music. Indeed, one of his first movies was dedicated to the Kinks, and another early work featured Wenders and novelist Peter Hanke driving in a car talking about their favourite made-in-U.S.A. records.  Since then, music has featured as prominently in Wenders' films as his actors have. It's impossible to imagine 1984's Paris, Texas without Ry Cooder's gorgeously melancholy guitar score, and it's almost as impossible to imagine any other pair of collaborators than Wenders and Cooder making Buena Vista Social Club, the 1999 documentary that sparked an offshore revival of interest in Cuban music.  His new film Don't Come Knocking, written by the star Sam Shepard (Paris, Texas's screenwriter), was scored by the veteran producer and musician T-Bone Burnett, and features music as a means of driving the plot on its westward journey to family reconciliation.  How into music is this man? While waiting for the interview in a Toronto hotel to begin, he tells me that his home in Los Angeles was once broken into and cleaned out: tape and computer equipment, videos, DVDs and hundreds of compact discs. Wenders says he's always hoped to catch up with the thieves and thank them.  Thank them? Why?  "They didn't touch my records. Kids today ..."

Q Which obsession came first for you? Music or movies?

A Hard to say. I'd be tempted to say music because I loved music, especially American music, as soon as I heard it.  I was 8 years old when I heard my first spiritual record: the Golden Gate Quartet. That blew my mind. Then I found out about the blues and other American music and that was really the beginning of my interest.  Up until then, in my family, my father always played classical music, which bored me. My mother was into German schlaga music, hit parade sort of German folk music, and I hated that. So when I heard spirituals, blues, early rock 'n' roll like the Everly Brothers and that sort of stuff, well, that was my music.

Q What do you mean, your music?

A I discovered it for myself. You couldn't get a lot of that music in Germany, but I'd listen to American Forces Network and Radio Luxembourg late at night. They had all that stuff that I loved. 

Q Did you buy records as well?

A I didn't even have a record player when I bought my first 45s. I could only play them at my friend's house. I didn't dare to have Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry in my room because my mother would have freaked out. So music was a very early love, well before I really had an interest in cinema.

Q So when did your second interest develop?

A Actually, what I just said is not quite true because something just came to my mind. I was a projectionist at a very early age. I inherited a beautiful little machine from my father that had survived the war miraculously in some basement. It was an old 9.5 mm projector, which is an obsolete format now. Sort of between 8 mm and Super 16 mm. My father had had it as a kid.  There was a cigar box full of tiny little reels, about the size of a silver dollar. They were little films of not much longer than 60 seconds, maybe a minute and a half, scenes like Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, early animation films. That was way before there was television in Germany. So at every one of my friends' birthday parties, I was the king because I could project movies.... Then television came and nobody wanted to see these little lousy films any more.

Q When did the potential of combining music with movies first occur to you?

A It never clicked until much, much later, when I did my very first short film.... It was late at night and at this editing table I pasted the first couple of scenes I had shot. But I had no sound for it. So I played some music on my old reel-to-reel to see how that would work. And that moment — the first when I put my favourite music to images I had created — was electrifying.  I think right up to today, that's the greatest pleasure for me in filmmaking: when it comes to that moment that the music and images meet for the first time. Sometimes I even feel like I'm doing this whole filmmaking thing because of it. To get to that moment.

Q At what point do you start thinking about the right music for a film?

A Very often I have a musical sound in my mind right when I start a film. For Don't Come Knocking I had a sound in my mind when Sam Shepard and I started working on the script. Some sort of strange punk-country sound. And I brought in T-Bone Burnett when we were still writing ...  I think for me it's almost as important to know what the music will be as to know the places where the film will be shot.

Q Your movies are often about people searching for something like home. Where do you live right now?

A I live in storage. My wife and I lived in Los Angeles for 10 years until we finished Don't Come Knocking. And then we wrapped it all up, sold the house in L.A. and thought we'd move to New York.  But then the entire post-production of the film happened in Germany. It was a German production and since we'd shot everything in America, we had to do something there.  So I spent a year in Berlin and all my stuff is still in storage. We still haven't managed to find a place. I visit my stuff in storage, but I'm actually living nowhere.

Wyclef Plays Cab Driver In New Film

Excerpt from

(Apr. 16, 2006) *Wyclef Jean has been cast in the unique role of a “spiritual taxicab driver” in the film “One Last Thing…” which follows the final days of a teen who is terminally ill. The film’s director, Alex Steyermark, sought out the Fugees member when considering actors who would fit the important role. He explained to "It's [based on] the mythical character of Charon, the ferryman who takes you across the river Styx to the other side. His role is really important, and I wanted it to be somebody who's really charismatic and very spiritual. “I happened to be looking at the cast list we'd had up until that point, and I was listening to [Wyclef’s 2003 album] ‘The Preacher's Son,’ and I said, 'Wait a minute. I know Wyclef. I should just approach him about this. '"Once Clef was sent the script, he connected immediately with the character, as his late father was also a cab driver. Once on the set, his creative energy in the role soon blossomed into impromptu freestyles about the storyline. "We were on the beach filming something, and he was telling me about some soundtrack he was doing, and I was like, 'Wyclef, why don't you make a song for this movie? I bet it could be great,'" Angarano told

"He was going, 'Oh man, I could make some ill sh*t for this.' "He blurted out the first line to the song, and for two hours he was screaming this song at the top of his lungs, fixing it in his head, not writing it down, just freestyling and just picking up the words, and switching the verses and the choruses," the director said. "It was Tuesday, and he was like, 'All right, I'll have it to you by Friday.' He comes in on Friday with the song, and not only is it a beautiful, great song, but one of his best. It's so perfect for the movie, and it captures such an essence of life itself. It's a perfect fit.” The song, called “Heaven’s in New York,” was recorded by Wyclef and given to Steyermark on the last day of shooting. “He showed up with a CD that had four different mixes,” said Steyermark. “He said, 'Here, I recorded this for you,' and it just blew us away. I think it's one of the best songs ever written for a movie, and it's a gift to the movie." “One Last Thing…” is due in theatres on May 5.

Rocket Man

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Liam Lacey

(Apr. 19, 2006) 'He's the wind on skates, he's all of Quebec on its feet. He scares the rest -- he's life in action," wrote legendary Quebec folksinger Félix Leclerc. "When he was coming down on you," National Hockey league goalie Glenn Hall said, "his eyes were flashing and gleaming like the lights of a pinball machine. It was frightening." The hockey player they eulogized, as even a casual fan of the game might guess, was Maurice (Rocket) Richard, often considered the most exciting player in hockey history. A dominant force in 18 years of professional play from 1942 to 1960, he was the first player to score 50 goals in as many games. His fiery style and legendary competitiveness made him a French-Canadian folk hero, and ultimately, a symbol of the French-Canadian struggle for autonomy. He died in 2000 at age 78. On Friday, the film
The Rocket opens in theatres across English Canada. (It opened in November in Quebec, to critical raves, 14 Jutra nominations, and more than $2-million at the box office.) Not just a story about a Canadian sports legend, the film is also about an era in Quebec history. In the early scenes, we see Richard, a 17-year-old machinist who was rejected by the military, playing hockey after a day at the English-owned factory. He came to the Montreal Canadiens at a time when, though most of the players were French, only English was spoken on the bench. Though a brilliant goal scorer and inspiring presence on the ice, he was uneducated and inarticulate and considered, as a teammate points out, a bad interview in either language. Tormented on the ice by rivals with ethnic taunts, and hot-headed by nature, he was frequently in the penalty box. Both he and his fans believed that he was discriminated against by English owners and officials. He came to see himself as the people's champion, expressing his views on hockey and society through a ghost-written newspaper column in Samedi-Dimanche. At one point, he referred to Commissioner Clarence Campbell as a "dictator" and was forced to retract the comment if he wanted to continue to play hockey.

All this reached its culmination on March 17, 1955, when a riot broke out in Montreal outside the Forum, in response to Campbell suspending Richard for the season and playoffs after the player attacked an official. Rioters caused an estimated half-million dollars worth of damage. In retrospect, it may have been a turning point in the Quiet Revolution that led Quebec out of the Duplessis years. The $8-million movie, produced by Alliance Atlantis and Odeon Films, was produced by Daniel Louis and Denise Robert (The Barbarian Invasions), who were anxious to recreate the Montreal of the late forties and fifties. They integrated his character against backgrounds that use stock National Film Board footage of old Montreal. Director Charles Binamé (Séraphin: Heart of Stone) was 7 before he moved to Montreal from his birthplace of Belgium in 1949, and his parents didn't have a television until 1961. He never saw the Rocket play, but he worked diligently to create the set-ups and exact choreography of historic goals, working from television footage, photographs or even reconstructing from radio broadcasts. The movie also used NHLers, including Mike Ricci, Vincent Lecavalier, Pascal Dupuis and Sean Avery, in the on-ice scenes. For him, though, the political story was more important than the hockey story: "The riots were about the frustration of a people, but the story is also about how Richard, as a man, woke up. I knew a lot about the history of the time in intellectual circles. What I discovered about Richard, mostly through the columns that he wrote, was that his was another voice added to a pivotal time in Quebec, when it became time to move in another direction. And it was a voice that was not from the intelligentsia, but from working-class people."

Binamé says he did not intend to exaggerate Richard's political commitment. The hockey player always insisted that he was not a politician. And for a nationalist icon, it can't be forgotten that Richard campaigned for Premier Maurice Duplessis and saw himself as a federalist. "[Scriptwriter] Ken Scott and I weren't out to demonize anyone. We just wanted to show this picture of Quebec at that time and what English-French relations were and to show one man trying to find his way against a changing society that made him a hero." For Binamé, there wasn't much doubt who he would cast as Richard. Actor Roy Dupuis, who had played Richard twice before, once on a Heritage Minute commercial, and in a 1999 miniseries about the player: "He has the same shyness, the gravity, even a certain awkwardness, he plays hockey and he looks like him. The same chin. The same eyes. Everyone says that. There was no one else." Dupuis, who turns 43 on Friday, was raised in Northern Ontario and Quebec, where he attended the National Theatre School in the early eighties. He has been a major Quebec star since the 1990 television series Les Filles de Caleb, which, as he said, "made him recognized everywhere overnight." In English Canada, Dupuis's profile is less well known, though he starred in the hit series, Nikita. He has also been offered work on major American series such as 24, but he prefers working and living in Quebec, where he keeps a restored 1840s farmhouse south of Montreal. Slightly taller than Richard, with blue eyes instead of Richard's green ones (he wore contact lenses in the film), Dupuis also has a dusting of grey in his beard. (In retirement, Richard was, famously, a spokesman for the hair dye, Grecian Formula.) Otherwise, the physical similarity is striking, though Dupuis says he "had to lose a little weight to play the Rocket when he was young, because I'm not 20 any more." The easy part was the emotional connection: "I didn't have to imagine what Maurice was like. I knew him. When I did the television series, I met him and we became friends. He was a man of a few words but they were usually worthwhile. After he died, when the chance to play him in the movie was offered, there was no question for me. It was something to do for a friend." Dupuis has a theory about where the Rocket got his fire: "I think, from his upbringing, he was a very proud person but being a French Canadian in those days, he wasn't supposed to act proud so he tried to be humble. Because he was truly great at something, he was recognized and known and I think he started to recognize that people looked to him to represent them, to stand for something. "I can understand some of that. There was a point when I knew that people's eyes were on me, and then you have a choice what you're going to do with yourself, but those were different times. "Maurice really felt it when the English players taunted him. They'd call him 'French frog' and it would make him really angry. Now to me, I would be like, 'Oh, come on, is that all you've got?' But for him, at that time, he had to fight."


LisaRaye Marries Her Turks Man

Excerpt from

(Apr. 17, 2006) *“All of Us” star
LisaRaye McCoy got married Saturday to Dr. Michael Misick, the Chief Minister of the Turks & Caicos Islands following a four-month delay.  The sunset ceremony was held April 8 at the Amanyara Resort on Providenciales before some 300 guests, including her sitcom co-star Dwayne Martin and his wife, Tisha Campbell Martin, actress Jasmine Guy and Miami rapper Trina. The bridal party included friend Vivica A. Fox, and LisaRaye’s half-sister, rapper Da Brat (real name Shawntae Harris). LisaRaye, in a backless ivory wedding dress, and Misick, sporting a black-and-white tuxedo, exchanged vows in an outdoor ceremony on the island's northwest point. Among the groom's men: Randy Jackson of the Jackson Five and Bahamas Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe, who was the best man. The couple, who met in 2005 at the Trumpet Awards in Atlanta, had an original wedding date of Dec. 28, 2005, but postponed the ceremony citing "readiness of the venue, and holiday travel limitations."  LisaRaye recently flew more than 35 cast and crew members from “All of Us” to Turks and Caicos for the wrap party of their second season. Two weeks ago, the bride had a wedding shower that included a sleepover, bridal shower and brunch.

Alicia Keys Lands Another Film Role

Excerpt from

(Apr. 14, 2006)
Alicia Keys is adding another note to her acting resume. The singer/songwriter has been cast in the big-screen adaptation of the best-selling book, "The Nanny Diaries," according to the artist's spokesperson.  The film features Scarlett Johansson as a nanny for a wealthy Manhattan family. Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney and Chris Evans also star. Keys will play the nanny's best friend.  The character is a far cry from the assassin she plays in the upcoming action flick "Smokin' Aces," which features Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Piven and Ray Liotta.  As previously reported, Keys and longtime manager Jeff Robinson formed a production company, Big Pita, Lil' Pita, in January that will create original television and movie projects -- and even more acting opportunities for Keys.

And The Oscar Show Goes Back To February

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Apr. 19, 2006) Los Angeles -- The
Oscars are moving back to February.  The 79th-annual Academy Awards will be held Feb. 25, 2007 -- the last Sunday of the month -- at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre and will be televised by ABC-TV. Oscar nominees will be announced Jan. 23.  This year's show was moved to the first Sunday in March to avoid going head-to-head against broadcasts of the Winter Olympics' closing ceremonies. AP

Bishop T.D. Jakes Signs Deal With Sony Pictures

Excerpt from

(Apr. 19, 2006) *Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed a three-year deal with
Bishop T.D. Jakes to release films and DVDs created under his production company, TDJ Enterprises. The pact follows the success of Jakes’ first film “Woman Thou Art Loosed,” a low-budget religious-themed drama that earned $6.9 million at the box office and sold more than 1 million units on DVD.  "When I met Bishop Jakes, we just hit it off," said Cling Culpepper, president of Sony's mid-budget Screen Gems unit. Culpepper met Jakes through the bishop’s annual MegaFest Christian conference, where he was looking for opportunities to market Screen Gems' fall 2005 release "The Gospel." "(The black inspirational genre) is so underserved,” Culpepper tells the Hollywood Reporter. “All across the United States, there are African American churches and worshippers (interested in inspirational fare)." The first film under the Sony deal will be "Not Easily Broken," based on an upcoming novel by Jakes. Shooting is scheduled to begin later this year.


MTV Canada Has Splashy Launch Last Night To Begin Rivalry With MuchMusic

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Ben Rayner

(Apr. 19, 2006) MTV the underdog?  Seems hard to believe, yes, but the newly launched
MTV Canada — an offshoot of the pioneering American music-video network, whose programming these days includes very little music — faces a tough battle ahead in wrestling basic-cable viewers away from the homegrown and deeply dug-in equivalent, MuchMusic.  No wonder, then, that CTV's pet project officially came out in high style last night with a double-barrelled launch soiree that not only featured exclusive, "VIP-only" performances from U.S. hip-hop superstar Kanye West and hirsute Canadian rocker Sam Roberts but also served as a re-anointing of Yonge Street's legendary Masonic Temple (formerly known as the Rockpile and the Concert Hall) as a music venue.  It's been years since the spacious hall and the building around it were criminally reduced to hosting Mike Bullard and the defunct Talk TV cable channel. The delight was palpable last night among long-time Toronto dwellers (music industry folk, media types and Broken Social Scenesters among them) who'd experienced life-changing shows there.  The general nostalgia was enough to make a more recent metro émigré who spent his youth in the cultural dead zones of rural New Brunswick and Ottawa feel downright deprived. By the time yet another friend had finished her own personal Temple tale — this one of getting onstage with Inspiral Carpets and hanging with a surly roadie who would go on to notoriety as Noel Gallagher — the barrage of memories was exhausting.  The big selling point was West's performance, in which the acclaimed rapper crammed his Late Registration touring production into a 600-capacity venue, including a comely female string section, a harpist and Montreal bred uber-turntablist A-Trak.

Unlike Roberts, a CanCon question mark beyond our borders, West is immensely marketable to international interests and evidence that CTV means to be a global player with its new venture.  Due to CRTC regulations that restrict MTV Canada to the same sort of "lifestyle" programming now championed by its American parent, the broadcast culled from the evening's concert will air on CTV at a later date. But the subtext was plain: Look out Much Environment, we've got a great room ourselves and we're gonna use it.  West was, arguably, the perfect choice to open the new MTV headquarters — if, of course, one discounts the fact that he's not Canadian and this was MTV Canada's launch.  He's a catch-all rapper, one whose most controversial attribute is not the all-guns-blazing stance of a 50 Cent but that he thinks dropping out of college might not be such a bad idea. He's a Grammy-endorsed hip-hop star the whole family can enjoy — his string section dropped instrumental snippets of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Bittersweet Symphony" for the genteel middle classes while he was off changing sunglasses. Evidently, CTV means business.

Billable Hours: Legal Ease

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Jim Bawden, Entertainment Reporter

(Apr. 16, 2006) I'm guessing I've pressed the wrong button in the high-speed skyscraper elevator. When the doors open, I think I'm watching a scene from the new TV comedy Billable Hours, which debuts tonight at 9:30 on Showcase. It's all about amiable young slackers at a downtown Toronto law office.  From the elevator, I spot the receptionist reading a crime novel, two gorgeous creatures in miniskirts racing down the hall and a young guy staring at his image in a mirror.  Wrong floor. The doors slam shut and I go to my real destination several floors higher, to the law office where I'm going to meet the creators and star of Billable Hours. We gather in a boardroom every bit as swish as the TV re-creations for such shows as L.A. Law and Boston Legal, and Canada's very own The Associates.  The co-creator (and co-star) is a familiar face: ultra-handsome Toronto actor Fabrizio Filippo. Heck, he's been around, as Buffy's boyfriend, super-sensitive Ethan on Queer as Folk and Sophia Loren's illegitimate son, Vittorio, (his best part to date) on last year's CTV miniseries, Lives of the SaintsBillable Hours' other creator, Adam Till, is less well known. In a previous life he was, actually, a young lawyer. After switching to writing, he wrote a couple of film shorts, including The Human Kazoo, directed by Filippo.  Filippo had started work on Billable Hours scripts almost 18 months ago when I talked to him about Lives of the Saints.  "Yeah, it's been that long," he shrugs. In the past Filippo had written idiosyncratic little plays for fringe theatre, but never for a TV series. He says developing the show has been "a very involved process, an eye-opener for me."  "A writing collaboration was new for us," adds Till. "We found we complemented each other. But there was a process of getting to know one another and understand what each of us was bringing to the table."

They teamed up after Showcase vice-president Laura Michalchyshyn suggested they pool their concepts. A short outline was created, then they went to work on a bible. About this time, Michalchyshyn defected to the U.S. cable channel Sundance and was replaced by Tara Ellis.  "We wondered what was going to happen," Till remembers. "But she (Ellis) was completely supportive, got right into it and kept us going."  Till says everybody agreed this was not going to be a standard sitcom. So there's no audience, no laugh track and no cutesy sitcom lines. The show is edgy, sometimes dark but always with the spark of recognition. Anyone who has worked in a big office environment will recognize the characters.  First big question: what is Fabrizio Filippo doing in a Toronto TV series on Showcase when he could be in L.A. appearing in yet another TV pilot for the next season?  I first noticed him, a second-generation Italian-Canadian kid from North York, in the homegrown TV series Ready or Not as the older brother. He fought back against the ethnic typecasting he'd always felt and moved to Los Angeles.  In 1996, he landed roles in not one, but two pilots for the next U.S. TV season. Lush Life was about contrary females sharing a flat with Filippo as their youthful next-door neighbour, while Dangerous Minds wanted him as a rebellious high-schooler (he was 21 playing 17). He chose Lush Life because the role was meatier but the show disappeared after only three or four episodes were aired. It was his introduction to the vicious ratings-driven side of U.S. television.  Moving on, he was Buffy's post-Angel boyfriend on a bunch of 1998 episodes and they looked cute together because they were the same height. Then he was the lovelorn gondolier on Providence (1999), followed by his favourite U.S. TV part, as a drug-addicted rehab actor in Action. This smart Hollywood-insider satire starring Jay Mohr was on Fox, the wrong network; if HBO had it, the show might still be going, judging by its later ratings success in reruns.  So when Filippo says "been there, done that" to explain his reluctance to leap back into the U.S. network wars, one can understand him. "It's a question of control," he adds. "I didn't want to be just a TV actor, I always wanted more than that."  Not that this country offers a safe haven for a young male actor. Fans expected the Calgary-made feature waydowntown (2001) would vault him to prominence but Canada lacks a star system. The story of four office drones who bet a month's salary on who can survive the longest without venturing outside Calgary's underground tunnels, it was a hit with anybody who saw it. Trouble was, not enough people saw it.  If he's famous in the U.S., it's as Ethan Gold in the Toronto-made series Queer as Folk. He was the seemingly romantic pianist who takes up with Justin (Randy Harrison) in this comical but sometimes wild look at gay life in Pittsburgh. Filippo told me previously that when the role came up, "I really had to think about it." Nudity was de rigueur, and the storylines so soapy, it's no wonder 60 per cent of viewers were female.

And Filippo learned how relentlessly U.S. TV promotes its talent. All of a sudden, Fab Filippo websites were springing up all over the place. The Ethan Gold character became so popular, Filippo was asked back for another season.  "Doing TV, there and here, became the reason I needed Lives of the Saints," he says. He'd never been stretched so much in a role, and playing the one who observed the action, he had to register depth he wasn't sure he had. Another actor might have turned Vittorio into a passive bore.  Loren was initially reluctant to okay the casting of this kid she thought was too short and inexperienced. But after one intense scene, Filippo remembers her walking past on the way to her dressing room and murmuring to him, "Bravo!" Then he knew he had her on his side. In fact, he was the best actor in an exceptional cast and the miniseries has played all over the place to strong ratings.  Lives of the Saints gave him renewed confidence to something as different as Billable Hours. And, in writing the scripts, he hasn't handed himself all the best lines. The show is pitched to the ensemble. "All the main characters are equal," he says — "it's how they interact with each other."  Till says the production company was "unbelievably lucky" in securing two vacant floors in a downtown tower after a law firm moved out, leaving sets largely ready-made. To capture the feeling of lawyers racing through corridors, the crew put down tracks so the cameras could keep up to the actors.  I was given a preview of two half-hour episodes. The first is a dead-on satire of the office turmoil when two scarce parking spots become available in the tower underground. Sam (Filippo) puts in his bid even though he lives across the street. Then he invents phoney emails in a bid to take his chief competitor Robin (Jane Baxter) out of the running. Nasty and completely unsentimental, it surely hits the comedic spot.  The other episode was funnier and more sitcom-y, centred on the unwelcome arrival of a bully (Gabriel Hogan) who used to torture Sam in high school and still wants to. Now he's a TV actor who wants to study real lawyers to prep for his new crime series; he's disappointed how many of them have never been in a courtroom.  Till says the objective is to show how utterly boring it is for a junior associate in a large partnership. "Basically you're there to make the coffee," he says.  Filippo notes the scripts are set almost completely in the law offices, with no scenes at home. And the lawyers rarely have any legal work to do, other than endlessly walking those corridors and stirring things up.  Filippo says there's room for more episodes of Billable Hours. "We're just getting started, warmed up. We're thinking about all kinds of possible stories."  It all depends on how viewers take to the first batch of six episodes.  At just 31, Filippo feels in control of his career. "But it's crazy — one of the reasons I got into acting was to steer clear of working in an office. So here I am, a lawyer, yet."

Mirren On View As The Mercurial Elizabeth I

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Bridget Byrne, Special To The Star, Associated Press

(Apr. 19, 2006) PASADENA, Calif.—Helen Mirren is a little conflicted about being a dame.  "My street cred is gone," lamented the actress, best known as Detective Jane Tennison in the gritty PBS crime series Prime Suspect.  The feminine equivalent of knighthood was bestowed on her by order of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, conjuring up images of "female impersonators" or "something from Guys and Dolls," laughs Mirren.  Professionally, however, Mirren's royal status has advanced far beyond the damehood level.  She plays the 16th-century queen in the two-part miniseries Elizabeth I, premiering on HBO Saturday, and on TMN here in Canada, at 8 p.m. Later this year, she'll be seen as the current Elizabeth II in the feature film The Queen, which takes place in the days following Princess Diana's death.  "They both came to the throne at 25. They both shared this absolute, total, disciplined, dedicated sense of duty to their role as monarch," Mirren said, as she talked over a cup of tea at a local hotel.  But that's where the royal similarities probably end.  Through research, Mirren discovered the mercurial Elizabeth I was "an incredibly passionate woman, a woman who could be so angry that she literally fainted with anger, and at the same time could laugh so hard, especially at vulgar comedy, that she fell off her chair.... She out-Cleo'd Cleopatra."  Elizabeth II tends to be more refined, of course.  Numerous actresses, including Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson and Cate Blanchett, have played Elizabeth I. Mirren said her favourite is Miranda Richardson's parody in Black Adder.  Elizabeth I focuses on the virgin queen's two romantic passions: her heartfelt love for the Earl of Leicester (played by Jeremy Irons) and her tragic dalliance with the much younger Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy).  At an earlier news conference, Mirren, 60, had joked with Dancy about how "mortified" she felt in a love scene "when we were romping around on the cushions and you were pretending to be excited about it, with a terrible old woman underneath you."  Glancing over at the sleek and sophisticated Mirren — with her blond bobbed hair and striking figure — Dancy had no problem sounding sincere when he said, "I didn't think of it that way!"

Scripted by Nigel Williams, the miniseries uses many of the intellectual monarch's own words. England's Palace of Whitehall was recreated in Lithuania inside a Soviet-era concrete gymnasium.  "It was this amazing set, all in one piece so you could walk from one room to another," said Mirren, describing the juxtaposition of the private and the public — the "almost erotic" atmosphere of the queen's bedroom being right next to the political council chamber.  She also has great praise for the costumes, designed by Mike O'Neill. "The older she got, the more extreme they got and the lower cut. Funnily enough, there's a lot of talk about her baring her bosom," laughed Mirren, who has never shied from playing nude scenes but doesn't go that far this time.  Elizabeth II wasn't on duty when Mirren was dubbed a dame — Prince Charles did the honours — but Mirren met the monarch briefly at a polo match.  "It was a great place to meet because she was in her element," the actress recalled. "She's very charming. Sparkling. People don't see that ... she's just not interested in smiling when she doesn't have reason to."  Elizabeth II reportedly enjoyed Elizabeth I when it aired in Britain and requested a video of the miniseries.  "She apparently hadn't got a DVD player," said Mirren. "That's so classic her."


U.S. Networks Taking FCC To Court Over 'Indecency'

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

(Apr. 16, 2006) Los Angeles -- Four TV networks and their affiliates have filed court challenges to a March 15 U.S. Federal Communications Commission ruling that found several programs "indecent" because of language. ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, along with their network affiliate associations and the Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. group of stations, filed notices of appeal in various federal courts, including in Washington and New York. Some of the appeals were filed late Thursday and the rest yesterday morning. The move represents a protest against the aggressive enforcement of federal indecency rules that broadcasters have complained are vague and inconsistently applied. Millions of dollars in fines have been levied based on those rules. The appeals challenge the FCC's finding that profane language was used on the CBS program The Early Show in 2004, two incidents on the Billboard Music Awards shows broadcast by News Corp.'s Fox in 2002 and 2003 and various episodes of the ABC show NYPD Blue that aired in 2003. The FCC did not issue fines in those cases because the incidents occurred before a 2004 ruling that virtually any use of certain expletives would be considered profane and indecent. The networks and affiliate groups, representing more than 800 individual stations, issued a rare joint statement yesterday calling the FCC ruling unconstitutional and inconsistent with two decades of previous FCC decisions. They said they objected to the "growing government control over what viewers should and shouldn't see on television." AP


Buddies Announces A Hat Trick Program

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(Apr. 19, 2006) Toronto's most daring and imaginative theatre company has just raised the stakes.  Buddies in Bad Times will announce its 2006-2007 playbill today and it's actually three seasons in one: each distinctive and promising.  The first is called The Creator/Performer and it's anchored by a farewell tribute to the 20-year producing history of da da kamera and its leading light, Daniel MacIvor.  A Beautiful View, opening May 10, will mark the final production of the organization founded in 1987 by MacIvor and Sherrie Johnson, which has provided memorable theatrical work over the years.  Three of MacIvor's finest solo pieces, Monster, House and Here Lies Henry, will be presented over the course of the season.  There will also be numerous premieres of work by other local creator-performers, including the outrageous Keith Cole and the talented Andrew Kushnir.  The second part of the Buddies season is entitled Audience Relocation and it focuses on "artists that blur the lines between audience and artist, between life and performance."  Boundary-stretchers like Mammalian Diving Reflex, Jennifer Tarver, Erika Hennebury, Deanne Taylor and VideoCabaret will use Buddies as a laboratory in which to experiment with the form and function of modern performance art.  These works will run throughout January and February 2007.  

The final part of the Buddies triptych returns to the theatre's roots as a home of queer culture with a program called Art&Sex.  Sasha Van Bon Bon joins with Buddies artistic director David Oiye to co-ordinate this part of the season.  Van Bon Bon's own group, The Scandelles, will take up a two-week residency to explore further their controversial work Les Demimondes.  Edward Roy and Oiye explore the nature of contemporary sexual interaction with a work called Gay For Pay that will include text, performance, video image and live webcam feeds.  And it wouldn't be a Buddies season without a work from its founder, Sky Gilbert.  His entry this year is called Will the Real J.Y. Leroy Please Stand Up? It explores the nature of tell-all biography in an era when lies often have more resonance than truth.  There's even more in store down on Alexander St. For further details, go to

Roberts Fans Crowd Theatre

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press

(Apr. 18, 2006) NEW YORK -- Julia Roberts -- movie star -- officially becomes Julia Roberts -- stage star -- tomorrow when the Oscar-winner opens on Broadway in a revival of Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain. Not that her marquee status was in doubt during the play's three weeks of sold-out preview performances at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Each night, as the performance ends, fans gather behind barriers and across 45th Street from the Jacobs to catch a glimpse and get playbills autographed. The theatre's security team has set up an exclusive pen for ticket-holders, who can line up on one side of the stage door. Last Thursday, for example, a few hundred people had gathered on either side of the stage door and across the street. A half-dozen police officers patrolled the area, shouting, "Off the streets! Everyone up on the sidewalks, now!" But the crowd grew as passers-by joined in. When traffic stopped a bus directly in front of the theatre, the crowd across the street broke into loud boos and catcalls, which coincidentally greeted Roberts as she finally emerged from the theatre. She signed a couple of programs in haste and jumped into a black SUV. At least one fan forgave Roberts for her brevity. "To be honest, she would have been trampled had she stuck around since people were jumping in front of the bus to get a look," said Erin Rosa. "Julia waved from the van -- that's good enough for me." Those demanding more than a quick look at Roberts have pretty much purchased all the tickets for the play's entire run, which ends June 18. The show, which also stars Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, could possibly extend for a few more weeks. The theatre's next tenant, Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, begins previews July 22 and opens Aug. 10.

For Broadway, Roberts's appearance during one of New York theatre's busiest springs in years, has been a huge event and a public-relations blessing. "A major film or TV star appearing on Broadway, or in any theatre for that matter, brings with them a number of assets," said Howard Sherman, executive director of the American Theatre Wing. "First and foremost, there's the talent that has lofted them into the position of being a star. "But they also bring with them the often-staggering press attention afforded to celebrities in those other media, which is vastly greater than the time and space typically afforded to theatre. And, of course, they bring a huge fan base which is national and even international, all of whom are eager to see their favourite star in the flesh." That eagerness created a frenzy during the play's first few previews, in which reporters -- and even one critic -- purchased tickets to see the show. At Roberts's first performance March 28, it was breathlessly reported that when a prop tomato accidentally fell off a table, the actress broke character and displayed her endearing toothsome grin. Roberts herself has been relatively mum about her Broadway debut, turning down a parade of interview requests. However, she did agree to a few TV appearances and did tell the New York Post in an interview last week, "I love being an actor, but sometimes doing this I feel as though I've gone back to square one." For Greenberg, the Tony-winning author of Take Me Out, this new production is an opportunity for Three Days of Rain to reach a wider audience. Commissioned and first performed by South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa, Calif., it tells of a brother and sister who unravel family secrets. New York first saw the play at off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club in 1997 with a cast that included Patricia Clarkson, Bradley Whitford and John Slattery. Elizabeth McGovern starred in the London production two years later. Roberts came aboard for the revival after she read the play at the urging of director Joe Mantello and producer Marc Platt, an old friend who had heard she was interested in doing theatre. Greenberg doesn't think that Roberts's presence throws the play. "It's funny. Three Days of Rain is a very quiet play, and this has been a very noisy event," Greenberg said with a laugh. "But the great thing is that . . . it hasn't affected the production."


Stratford Fest Appoints New Chief

Excerpt from The Toronto Star - Canadian Press

(Apr. 18, 2006) As the Star's Richard Ouzounian reported this morning, former actor
Antoni Cimolino will be the new general director at the Stratford Festival, the renowned theatre company announced Tuesday.  He'll take on that administrative role beginning in the fall.  The festival is striking out in a new creative direction with Cimolino, who is currently executive director at the festival.  He's planning to lead a team of up to four artistic directors. Two or three names will likely be announced in late June as a replacement to current artistic director Richard Monette, who plans to retire after a record 14 seasons.  Cimolino told a Toronto news conference Tuesday he's been asked to represent both the business and artistic portfolios at the festival.  "It'll be my job to take more and more risks and make them well-planned risks," he said. "Make sure we can balance our books, because that's incredibly important for the long term, but do it as we create great art."  Cimolino acknowledged few theatre groups around the world have tried the committee approach and that Stratford itself has experimented in years past.  "It seems to be on the cutting edge," he said. "In a way, this is an innovation. There's no organization of our size that has attempted this. But you know, everything about creating theatre is about collaboration. Everything."


The Billion-Dollar Baby

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Val Ross

(Apr. 16, 2006) Six days a week for the past two years, Ted Ollmann, 62, a crane operator with a titanium knee, has begun his 4:30 a.m. climb up a yellow Liebherr hammerhead crane at the Royal Ontario Museum construction site. Once in the cab, 20 storeys above Toronto's Bloor Street, Ollmann lifts steel beams and panels, swings them into place and lowers them to waiting workmen. He's become a nameless hero to admirers in the Park Hyatt roof bar over the way. "We've seen him go up in the winter," says bartender Cordell Barker. "It's gotta be brutal." But there are compensations — such as Ollmann's view of the sun rising over his strenuously striving city, now in the midst of an unprecedented cultural building boom. Until it was blocked by new buildings, he had a long view of the Ontario College of Art and Design's Dalmatian-spotted addition on stilts (he helped build that one) and of the Art Gallery of Ontario, its old face recently torn off to make way for architect Frank Gehry's billowing new design. To his right, he has a perfect bird's-eye view of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art's messy renovation, and to his left, the even bigger mess — open wound, really — of the Royal Conservatory of Music's reconstruction site.  "I've worked in Iran, Algeria, Singapore, on the rigs in the Beaufort Sea," Ollmann says. "Toronto is unique." There's so much building going on, he must stay in radio contact with the RCM crane next door lest they swing into one another's area. "I still do have anxious moments."

So does Toronto. So do the private donors, and the federal and provincial governments that have together poured almost $900-million into the crane-shadowed pits that pockmark Canada's largest city. A generation ago, an astonished Toronto was energized when its multicultural neighbourhoods won favour from international urban thinkers such as Jane Jacobs. Then, for 30 years, the city the rest of Canada loves to hate cruised back into mediocrity. Today, it is regaining a sense of its own singular potential. In once derelict, now glamorous industrial lofts and hotels, indie rockers talk with hip architects and earnest young public-space activists about books like uTOpia: Towards a New Toronto and debate whether the term "Torontopia" has gone too far in "fetishizing" the city's newfound energy. Does it matter that Philistine Hogtown, the wannabe New York and butt of Montrealers' jokes, may be directing too much money and attention to big, showy projects rather than the little studios and open stages, the cultural petri dishes where real art is born? Does it matter that the city's efforts are driven less by aesthetic passion than by hunger for money, prestige and power? Probably not: All this could be said of Lorenzo de Medici and his patronage of Leonardo and Michelangelo in 15th-century Florence. And the city's image is shifting, across Canada and abroad. "What's going on in Toronto, that's the event of the century," says Pierre Théberge, director of Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada. He predicts that Toronto's cultural build will energize communities across Canada. "In Montreal, people are pointing to Toronto and saying, 'What are we doing?!?'" The image change is transatlantic. "Toronto is a lively global city, just like Milan," is the opinion of Fabio Terragni, CEO of the Milano Metropoli development agency, which is organizing an exhibition of Toronto architectural models at the Palazzo Reale (and an exchange exhibit of Milanese projects at Toronto's Design Exchange). Terragni sees Toronto as "a city of architecture, biotechology, media — and many Italians." This is balm to a Canadian city that has, post-SARS and post-9/11, seen its tourism revenues march down a steep stair. And such comments are a veritable steroid injection for the capital city of a province with a rusting manufacturing base, a city trying to rebrand itself with "creative renewal" so that entrepreneurial and innovative talent "will be attracted to living here," in the words of Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of the city's Medical and Related Sciences Centre. At MaRS, new-media designers work with biotechnologists to make images of, say, what drugs do to the body. "Innovation is broader than science and technology. It's about creativity in the broadest context."

The trouble is, a mob of other cities is also building ambitious cultural projects to chase the same high-spending tourists and high-tech talent. Since Frank Gehry's 1997 Guggenheim Bilbao Museum in Spain came to symbolize the power of cultural icons to revitalize urban economies, U.S. museums have invested more than $5-billion to build or expand; Boston's Museum of Fine Arts remake will cost roughly twice as much (about $500-million) as any single Toronto project. In Europe, Vienna has redeveloped an inner-city neighbourhood, the MuseumsQuartier; Valencia, Spain, is building a district called the City of Arts and Sciences. "Will visitors from the United Kingdom come to Toronto over Spain? Unlikely," says Jon Ladd, CEO of the British Urban Regeneration Association. "Where I think Toronto will be okay is, you have a critical mass of attractions, venues, activities, iconic buildings, a city image. Constructing these buildings must not be a one-off. Culture must be part of the city's fabric. Otherwise, you'll have white elephants on your hands." U.S. economist and urban philosopher Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, concurs: "If you're up against New York and London, you've got to play in the big leagues. It makes sense to invest in institutions with cachet, architecture with panache. The mistake would be to put big institutions before actual artists. The advantage Toronto has is that it's open — to people from all over the world — and it's affordable. It was to rebrand Toronto in this way — and not because of embarrassment over warren-like, vermin-infested facilities at the old National Ballet School, or clanking rads and water dripping down the walls of the Royal Conservatory of Music, or the shameful waste of museum and art collections stored away for want of exhibition space, or the public's frustration with pitiful acoustics and sightlines — that one unlikely man laid the foundation for Toronto's new direction.

Madeleine Thien: Past, Present And Future

Excerpt from The Globe and Mail - Michael Posner

(Apr. 18, 2006) Writers are taught to write what they know, so it's not terribly surprising that Certainty -- Madeleine Thien's first novel -- is rich in things Dutch. That's because Thien's husband, Willem Atsma, a biomechanical engineer, was born and raised in Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. Until a recent move to Quebec City, the couple lived in for 18 months in Atsma's native village, near the North Sea. "The idea was that he would finish his PhD and we'd move to Paris," Thien recalled during a recent interview. "We thought he'd be done in three months. That was in 2002," she said with a laugh. "He's just finishing this month." But Thien, age 32, also uses her novel (which is published by McClelland & Stewart) to probe the mysteries of her own familial past, as the youngest daughter of Chinese-Malaysian immigrants to Vancouver, after the Second World War. To research her history, Thien spent part of the spring of 2000 backpacking though East Malaysia, seeking to connect with people who might have remembered her grandfather, murdered after the Japanese surrender in 1945, and trying to address long unanswered questions.

Growing up, "if I heard about my grandfather at all, it was one or two sentences, moistly about the way that he died," she said. "Nobody really knows how he died. He just disappeared. My dad at the time was only five. So you go thinking there are all these things you're going to uncover, and it didn't happen. So I had to invent most of the story and I think that's for the better in a lot of ways." The book, which took five years to write, shifts backward and forward in time and space, examining how the past impinges on the present and the future. In an epigraph to the novel, she quotes Albert Einstein: "For we convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, however persistent." "It was a struggle to write it, yes, but it was my struggle," Thien said. "It was what I needed to do. I was obsessed with it, or at least completely absorbed. I feel really lucky to have had those five years." The literary community has been eagerly anticipating Certainty. Thien's first book, a short-story collection called Simple Recipes, was widely praised. Alice Munro called it "the debut of a splendid writer." When news of the new novel reached foreign publishers, they pounced. According to Marilyn Biderman, who handles international rights sale at M&S, distinguished houses in eight territories paid top dollars for publication rights.

As a child, Thien wanted to be a ballerina and studied dance, and continued with it for two years at Simon Fraser University. By that time, "I don't think I wanted to dance professionally, but I really enjoyed the program, being able to dance five days a week," she said. In her third year she transferred into the University of British Columbia's creative-writing program. She had always been an avid reader and, as a shy child, "not so social with other kids," had found a comfortable home among books. She also wrote a lot of poetry, but has saved none of it, "and everyone should be glad." Later, she applied to the UBC master's program and was initially rejected.  "I'd never taken a writing program. I didn't know any writers. I didn't even know what I was aiming for. The idea of submitting a portfolio of work with finished stories seemed so crazy, because I thought that's what you would learn in the program." Fortunately, faculty member Andreas Schroeder, who had read some of her work, invited her to audit a few courses on a trial basis, including a non-fiction seminar. "It was pretty terrifying the first few days."  What did she write about? "My family. I always write about my family. I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't let me in." At the time, the UBC program was "sort of flying beneath the radar and there wasn't as much pressure as perhaps there is now. You could go in and do your work, meet other writers and it was a great community. Nobody thought you'd walk out of there with book deals." But Thien says she had already about 60 per cent of Simple Recipes before she started at UBC and within four months was already talking to M&S publisher and senior vice-president Ellen Seligman about a possible book. "I was ready to sign with another publisher," she recalls, "but the rules of an Asian writers prize that I had won said they had to shop the book. So I thought, well if I have to follow the process, I might as well write a letter to Ellen, because a lot of the writers I really admired were with her -- Michael Ondaatje, Anne Michaels. It was a shot in the dark, but she ended up phoning. It took a few months but she finally said, 'We want to sign your book.' It was the most amazing moment."

Curiously, Thien has done all of this without an agent. "I called some of them, but I never felt I really clicked with anyone. I think it was a good decision. In a sense, Marilyn Bidermanis my agent." Of Seligman's editing, she says, "She has a sixth sense about what's possible. She knows where to tap the walls." Thien says she plans to write another novel that, for the moment, is "all in my head. I've done enough research to know what the starting point is." Most likely, it will be written in Quebec City, but she doesn't foreclose the possibility of a return to Europe. "We still fantasize about Paris."


A Vision For Toronto's Future

Excerpt from The Toronto Star

(Apr. 16, 2006) What if we dreamt up some ambitious ideas for Toronto, and what if we implemented them, and what if Toronto became the most innovative city in the world?  Mayor David Miller imagines a city so inspired, even the Leafs turn it around.  Urban affairs critic Christopher Hume reimagines the city's architecture, so that design and planning trump expansion and prefab sprout, starting with our schools.  Writer and graphic artist Christopher Hutsul sees a cultural renewal that re-envisions the entire city surface as a painter's template.  Leslie Scrivener invites Toronto's vibrant ethnic communities to spend more time talking to each other and posits a new housing strategy.  Feature writer Francine Kopun presents a plan to get rid of the guns that blight our streets, while Betsy Powell imagines a new city where sin is legalized, and taxed.  Jennifer Wells is busy putting a bike under every butt, while Rita Daly whips up a solution to the daily commute and Gabe Gonda revitalizes the TTCWhat if you have a plan?  We want your ideas (even the wacky ones) for making Toronto the best city in the world. Send them to:


Argos Shore Up Front Office

Source:  Canadian Press

(Apr. 19, 2006) MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The Toronto Argonauts signed Adam Rita and Greg Mohns to one-year contract extensions Wednesday, firming up their front office staff through the 2007 season.  Rita is the GM and vice-president of football operations while Mohns is assistant GM and director of player personnel. The moves coming on the eve of the CFL Canadian draft.  "I'm happy to be part of this organization and I'm looking forward to watching the team grow and get better for the future," Rita said in a statement. "I'm very proud to be part of a club that is run with a tremendous amount of class."  Mohns said the contract extensions provide the team with the continuity it needs.  "We are just starting to reap the benefits of keeping staff together," Mohns said in a release. "Adam Rita and I have worked together for many seasons and we work very well together. Having the rest of the coaching staff like Michael Clemons, Kent Austin and Rich Stubler also signed long-term, makes it a pleasure to be with the Argonauts and means we have a solid foundation for the future."  In two seasons as Toronto's GM, Rita has assembled one of the most successful football operations in the league. The Argos have competed in the Eastern final twice, won a Grey Cup and returned to first place in their division. Rita has also signed key Argos Tony Miles, Arland Bruce and Kevin Eiben to long-term deals.  The club also hired Miles Gorrell as Canadian scout Wednesday. Gorrell joined the Argos last March as a consultant. Gorrell, who was a five-time divisional all-star lineman in his playing days, joined the team after a season as director of Canadian personnel with the Calgary Stampeders.

Throws Like A Girl — With 70 MPH Fastball

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
David Grossman, Sports Reporter

(Apr. 19, 2006) Samantha Mullins heard the snickers coming from a handful of what she referred to as "macho guys" at her east-end Toronto high school.  At first, the 16-year-old didn't take too kindly to their reaction after word spread that she was trying out for the boys' baseball team at Birchmount Park Collegiate.  "I remember they were laughing at me thinking it was some kind of joke," said Mullins. "It didn't discourage me. If anything, it got me pumped. When I got out to practice, there were other guys who were quite the opposite and very supportive."  Mullins ignored the chatter and focused on making the final roster when the Toronto District School Board season starts in a few weeks. She made the cut and is now the only girl on the 20-player Birchmount Park team, considered one of the best programs in the province.  The Panthers, with two members on Canada's national junior team, are a pre-season favourite to win the Blue Jays-sponsored high school championship set for June 14 at the Rogers Centre.  Mullins, who first started playing baseball at the age of 8, has always played against girls.  No more.  "I was actually quite surprised when the coaches told me that I had made the team," she said.  "It's a great feeling to be one of the guys."  Born in St. John's, Nfld., Mullins was adopted and came to Toronto. She said her cousin Kevin was an early influence in getting her hooked on the sport.  "He's my age, I saw him play and also wanted to play," she recalled last night. "It's a passion. I've never looked back."  Mullins, who made the school team as a pitcher, is also a nifty leadoff hitter with speed on the bases.  While girls have played on baseball teams in past, and usually as outfielders, the majority have gone on to play fastball and slo-pitch.  None of the veteran coaches contacted by the Star can recall a female baseball pitcher, much less one who has been clocked throwing at 70 miles per hour.  While the velocity may sound exceptional for girls, the average speed thrown by boys in a high school game is closer to 80 miles per hour.

Mullins, a 5-foot-5 right-hander, is adamant that she's playing for fun, not for the attention.  "I love the sport and this is the only way I can play for my school," she said. "Last year, I played slo-pitch, didn't like it and quit. It wasn't fast enough and I wanted something more challenging."  Mullins, who has added a curve to her repertoire of pitches — that includes a changeup — has played the past seven years with the Birchmount Bulldogs, who run community-based teams in various age groups.  Last season, Mullins showed her versatility shuffling between pitcher, catcher and shortstop and was chosen female player of the year in the Toronto Baseball Association.  "Dedication all the way, this is her sport and she's a gamer," said Grant Rutledge, who coached Mullins last season.  "She can hit, likes to run, but she has a very strong arm and has no problem pitching inside. She'll hit people crowding the plate — but that's all part of the game."  Despite just four practices with her school team, Mullins has no trepidation.  She figures coaches will initially call on her to play against some of the weaker school teams.  "I'll be all right but I'm a bit worried that guys might start hitting my pitches and things will go downhill from there," said Mullins.  Glen Rose, a community volunteer who shares the coaching job with history teacher Adam Dahlke, has no concerns.  "I've known about her for years," said Rose, well respected in the Scarborough Baseball Association.  "She knows the game, she knows how to throw and she's a welcome addition to our team."  Dahlke may have helped convince Mullins to play for the school team.  "She was in my class, we talked about it and I knew she could throw the ball," he recalled.  "She's a quiet kid but now may have sent a message to others that it's no longer just a boys' game."

Raps Seemed Content To Stink Out The Joint

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Dave Feschuk

(Apr. 19, 2006) The last practice of a long-lost season was over, but Alvin Williams was still trying to win a game.  It's been Williams against his body for a while now, the surgeons against the hurt in his legs. But yesterday — at the end of a year in which Williams, the longest-serving Raptor, saw exactly nine minutes and 45 seconds of action due to injury — it was Williams against Sam Mitchell, the Raptors coach who is only four years removed from the NBA rigours. Their one-on-one faceoff, though it was played at sub-NBA speed and well below the rim, was competitive and passionate and halfway entertaining — the antithesis, in other words, of Monday's Fan Appreciation Night, a 25-point cremation.  When Williams made a tricky spinning reverse layup, Mitchell scoffed: "He shot that with his eyes closed." It's no secret, though, that Williams, who won the impromptu one-on-one tournament that also included Darrick Martin, is the vision of what the Raptors lacked this year; a guard with a bent toward hard-nosed unselfishness over hard-dribbling self-promotion.  There's no obvious replacement for that role; Williams's health and contract are question marks. But even though the Raptors lack such an obvious cog — not to mention frontline size to match even middle-of-the-road Eastern Conference squads — some of them are speaking surprisingly optimistically about next season.  "We're close," Chris Bosh said the other day. And by close, he later elaborated, he meant close to being a playoff-calibre club.  Though the NBA system is designed to elevate the weak, a leap into the 2007 post-season is far from a given. The off-season's possibilities — about $10 million in spendable payroll and a quality first-round draft pick — are tantalizing. And it's true that as of yesterday seeds five through eight in the East's playoff picture had exactly 40 wins.  But even a 40-win goal — considering the season wraps tonight in Chicago with the Raptors shooting for win No.28 — is no small wish. It's often pointed out that the Raptors haven't often been blown out this year. They've lost 19 games by 10 points or more, and half the league got beat by that much at least as often. It's also pointed out that on a typical night the Raptors only lost by an average margin of 2.8 points per game.

But hanging close in NBA games is like riding in the peloton at the Tour de France. Just because you can keep the pace doesn't mean you have a real chance to win the majority of the sprints to the finish. The Raptors played a lot of close games because most NBA games are close.  Only five teams have a worse point differential than Toronto. Nobody, however, has put together a worse assist differential, meaning Toronto's opponents have typically out-assisted them to the tune of 3.9 helpers per game. That's evidence of hapless defensive switches that surrender a lot of layups, and a lot of wide-open jumpers. And it's evidence that when came time to create offence, they tended to rely on the dribble.  They have traded baskets, and traded down. They have allowed their opponents 49 per cent shooting. And if you call that hard work you're a propagandist. It'll take some luck, some brains, and some brawn to turn that lassitude into aptitude.  These Raptors, most alarming of all, have seemed awfully content with being a bad team. They say they stuck together, but they also shrugged together, accepting defeat, not with rancour, but with resignation. Yesterday, when things didn't go well for Williams, he punched the ball off the back wall and booted it into the rafters. He played body-to-body defence. He appeared to care more about winning an otherwise meaningless round of one-on-one than most Raptors appeared to care about losing most of their games. And when he swished a turnaround fallaway jumper over his coach, it was suggested lady luck's services had been solicited.  "What the (heck) was that?" Mitchell scoffed.  Said Williams, all business among the "we-played-hard" poop shovellers: "A nice play."

Canada Dumps Russia To Reach Semis

Source: Canadian Press

(Apr. 19, 2006) ANGELHOLM, Sweden — Canada is into the semifinals of the
world under-18 hockey championships after a 4-1 quarterfinal win over Russia on Wednesday.  Jamie McGinn of the Ottawa 67’s scored a pair of power-play goals while John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals and Shawn Mattias of the Belleville Bulls added singles as Canada finally ended a scoring drought at the tournament that lasted 166 minutes 39 seconds.  Canada will play Finland in Thursday’s semifinal (TSN, 1:30 p.m. ET). The two teams played to a 0-0 draw in the final game of the round-robin earlier this week.  The Czech Republic beat Sweden 3-0 in the other quarterfinal Wednesday and will face the undefeated Americans in the semis.  Tavares, who is just 15, scored Canada’s first goal in more than two games when he took a pass in front from Justin Azevedo of the Kitchener Rangers and beat Russian netminder Semen Varlamov with a low, quick shot at 18:24 of the second period.  Prior to Tavares’ power-play goal, the Canadians hadn’t been on the scoresheet since a 9-2 rout of Norway last Thursday. It was a big relief to finally find the net, said Canadian coach Greg Gilbert.  "You could just see the guys’ shoulders relax a little bit more," he said. "They weren’t squeezing the stick as much as they were earlier in the game. Something like that can kick-start a team. And we followed through and buried a few more as the game went on."

McGinn swept the puck past Varlamov on the backhand to give Canada the lead 5:02 into the third. McGinn added another power-play goal at 17:31 of the third while Matthias gave Canada some extra insurance when he scored with less than two minutes left.  Jonathan Bernier made 20 saves in the Canadian net.  Sergey Zachupeyko scored the lone Russian goal while Varlamov was solid for most of the game, making 39 saves.  Gilbert expects a tough challenge from the Finns.  "They’re a hard-working hockey club," he said. "They play a fairly good North American game. They like to wheel and deal but they also finish their checks."  Gilbert says he’d like to see his team take fewer stick-related penalties.  "Because we’re out of position physically, we’ve got to reach and hook and hold and things like that," he said. "(Those types of penalties) are the ones you can’t accept."  Each player on the Canadian team has been sporting a single black line painted underneath his left eye throughout the tournament. It’s symbolic of a warrior, says McGinn.  "It’s above our heart," he said. "If you want to put on the black line you’re going to have to be a warrior out there. That’s what it represents. It’s team bonding."  He says the team is anxious to get another crack at the Finns.  "We’re going to be hyped up," he said. "We had our chances against them last time. We should have won the game. Now the scoreless drought is over, we’re going to bury some in the net against them."  Canada won a silver medal at the 2005 tournament.

Leafs: 'We Feel Guilty'

Excerpt from The Toronto Star -
Curtis Rush, Staff Reporter Thestar.Com

(Apr. 19, 2006) The sting has set in big time.  
The Leafs looked glum today as the shock of missing the playoffs by two points rumbled deep in their hockey souls.  Though you wouldn't notice it at first glance.  Decked out in sandals, shorts and ball hats, the Leafs straggled one by one into the Air Canada Centre this morning looking fit for summer as they said what for some may be their final goodbyes to each other.  And though they'll be on the golf course earlier than the playoff-bound NHL teams, the Leafs couldn't hide their distaste for being bounced from the post-season for the first time since 1998.  Forward Darcy Tucker, who finished fourth in team scoring with 28 goals and 33 assists, looked particularly glum, saying the "sting" will last at least a few weeks.  "We feel guilty," he said about the season. "We feel like we've let a lot of people down. But there were a lot of encouraging signs down the stretch (when the Leafs ran up a 9-1-0-2 record in their last 12 games)."  Tucker, who is under contract with the Leafs next year, said it's particularly difficult this year, having reached the 90-point level (41-33-1-7) and still falling two points short of the playoffs.  He said it's also tough knowing that many players won't be back next season, adding that the first priority of management should be to sign defenceman Bryan McCabe, who becomes a free agent this summer.  "But that's a decision of management."  And while many believe Pat Quinn is finished as the Leafs' head coach, Tucker wasn't as quick to call for a change in the head-coaching ranks.  Tucker said Quinn has "a lot of respect" among the veterans and treats everyone fairly. "Pat's done a lot for a lot of guys in the dressing room."

Tucker said no matter what happens, the Leafs have to think long and hard about what went wrong. That feeling should hurt for a long time, he said, so the players work even harder next season to make sure the season is more successful.  When you're young, "you want to score as many goals as you can and get as many points as you can," Tucker, a nine-year NHL veteran, told reporters today outside the Air Canada dressing room.  But, he added, as you get more experience, the goal becomes less individual and more about winning the ultimate team prize, the Stanley Cup.  "Winning a championship is all you look forward to as a player as you get older," Tucker said.  Not all players had their heads down today.  Forward Matt Stajan gave a good account of his season, even though he played mostly on a checking line and didn't get the ice time some may have felt he deserved.  Stajan, who scored 15 goals and added 12 assists in 80 games, said he's looking forward to coming back stronger next season, even if there's a different supporting cast.  "I'm going to work hard this summer," he said confidently. "I think I proved to a lot of people that I can play a bigger role."  Another player of the future, winger Alex Steen, had trouble digesting the fortunes of the Leafs after they showed spurts of good hockey.  "Everybody saw when we were playing well, as we did the last three weeks of the season, we were a good team," Steen said. "We definitely had the team to play in the playoffs. It's an empty feeling that we won't be there."


Cheat Days: You Have Our Blessing!

By Jeff Wooten, Special for

(April 17, 2006) Sure, you've worked hard to achieve that body of your dreams, or you are working hard to do so. So, you may ask, why ruin it by eating junk food? This is a very good question. To discover the answer, let's look at the question a different way.  Think of your fitness and exercise regimen as work (This probably isn't a stretch for most of us!), and think of cheat days as vacation. Now, you do believe in vacation, don't you? I know I do.  Many years ago my wife and I visited with a financial planner for the first time as a couple. The financial lady asked us a question that probably every financial planner has asked their clients at some point: "Why do you work?" My wife gave several answers. Among them were: "To save money for our kids' education" and "To save for retirement." These are very noble reasons.  However, when the lady looked at me, I said, "So that I can take vacation!" Now, if you know me the way my wife does, you would know that this is pretty typical of me. Let me explain.  I truly believe that hard work is completely necessary in order to achieve anything worth having. Hard work has lots of intangible benefits as well. You feel a greater sense of achievement when you earn something through hard work as opposed to when it is given to you.  But, you must have down time. You cannot do your best all the time. This is the nature of humans. As the saying goes: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." It's the down time that allows you to recover and return to your work with a clear sense of purpose.

So, if you spend the majority of your time exercising hard and watching what you eat, your body should be able to handle junk food if you only eat it from time to time. If you like ice cream, you don’t have to avoid it altogether. This would be a psychological disaster. In fact, eating your favourite junk food every once in a while is like taking a vacation from your normal hard work of exercise and diet.  When you eat that ice cream, don’t feel guilty. Enjoy it! If you don’t eat the ice cream that you like, or if you feel guilty because you "gave in," then you actually become a slave to that ice cream (as well as any other junk food you happen to like).  On the other hand, if you have planned junk food "vacations," then you are free to enjoy your ice cream to its fullest because you understand that your vacation is a necessary counter to your work. When I eat junk food, I never eat a low-fat or low-carb version of my favourites. I always go for the real, full-fat, full-sugar junk! The key is I don’t eat these things on a regular basis -- just like I don’t vacation all the time. I mostly work, but when it's time to vacation, you can believe I vacation.  So, the moral of the story is this: Don't be a workaholic (We all know how stressed workaholics are). Take vacation from time to time (eat your favourite junk food). Above all, don’t work while you are on vacation (don't feel guilty about eating your junk food). When it's time to work, work hard, knowing that you are earning another much deserved vacation! This is a recipe for optimal health (psychological as well as physical).

Jeff Wooten is a certified fitness trainer, certified specialist in martial arts conditioning and a licensed massage therapist. Jeff trains his clients in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he integrates personal training, martial arts techniques and bodywork therapy for a truly unique fitness experience.


Motivational Note: Control Your Motivation

Excerpt from - Jason M. Gracia President, Motivation123;

The ability to control your motivation is the most important skill you will ever learn, and the ideas below will give you a great start to making this skill a part of your daily life. Thank you again for your request, and enjoy your free tools, tips, and techniques!

1.         Let Go of the Past

Before you can create a better future, you must let go of the pains in your past. Failing once does not mean you will fail forever. Learn from your history, but don't let it stand as an obstacle between you and your dreams.

2.            Remember Success

Just as important as learning from and overcoming past failure is recalling past success. It doesn't matter who you are, you have succeeded at something at sometime in your past. Don't gloss over these moments. Use them to remind you that you can in fact achieve your goals.

3.            Realize the Possibilities

It's possible. The dreams you hold in your heart but push to the back of your mind are within your reach. Accept the fact that you can create a better life. This will serve as the springboard of belief you need to succeed.

4.         Dream the Big Dream

In order for dreams and desires to inspire you to action and achievement, they need to be big. If you don't get excited about what you have planned for the future, you will never find the inspiration you need to change your life. Powerful dreams can move the soul, and when you dream the big dream, you will be driven to make the compelling picture a tangible reality.

5.            Thinking Your Way to Change

No matter how bad you want it to happen, change will never result from thinking alone - you must take action. The world is swimming in dreamers, but only those who act on their desires achieve truly remarkable results.

When Should You Begin?

It's decision time. You can continue to dream about the things you want or you can do something about them. You can let routine run the show or you can take control and make a change. You can put off your happiness until another day or you can begin doing the things you know you are capable of doing right now - the choice is yours.