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LE NEWSLETTER

May 1, 2008

Welcome to the tides of May! 

Don't forget to check out the awesome Alvin Ailey show at Sony Centre - get those tickets now and believe me, you won't be disappointed!  Details below. 

Check out an exciting and enlightening trip to Africa with my good friends, Leslie and Jeff Jones (some of my nearest and dearest friends).

Scroll down and find out what interests you - take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!

 

::HOT EVENTS::

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – May 16-17, 2008

Source:  Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

Join the celebration as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, America’s cultural ambassador to the world, marks its 50th anniversary of bringing African-American cultural expression and the American modern dance tradition to the world’s stages.  The genius of Alvin Ailey changed forever the perception of American dance; today the legacy continues with Judith Jamison’s remarkable vision and the extraordinary artistry of the Company’s dancers.  Beauty, spirit, hope and passion know no bounds.  That is the power of Ailey.

AADT returns to the Sony Centre for three performances; each show will be comprised of a distinct set of pieces from the company's repertoire, culminating in the signature ‘Revelations’.

FRIDAY, MAY 16-SATURDAY, MAY 17, 2008
ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATRE
3 Performances Only
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
1 Front St. E. (corner of Yonge & Front St.)
Prices: $48 - $78
Tickets: (416)872-2262 or visit www.sonycentre.ca


::SCOOP::

Mariah Carey’s E=MC² Debuts At #1 In Canada

Source:  Universal Music Canada

(April 23, 2008 (Toronto, ON)
Mariah Carey’s acclaimed eleventh album, E=MC² (Island Def Jam/Universal Music Canada) has today debuted at #1 on the Neilsen Soundscan Album Chart, and also sits at #1 on the Digital Album Chart.   

The first smash single from E=MC², “
Touch My Body,” is Mariah’s record breaking 18th #1 single which recently made U.S. history as it surpassed Elvis’ historic record of 17 #1’s. The video for “Touch My Body” also hit #1 at MuchMusic (Big One), MuchMoreMusic (Choice Cut) and Musique Plus (Buzz Clip).

Following appearances on Saturday Night Live, The Hills after party, Oprah and American Idol, Mariah’s round of promotion continues this week as she appears on Good Morning America (ABC Network) and Regis & Kelly (CTV Network) on Friday (April 25).  Also to mark the release of E=MC², in an unprecedented partnership between Island Def Jam Music and the Empire State Building NYC, the floodlights at the top of the Empire State Building will light up in the signature Mariah pink and purple colours this weekend.

 
E=MC², which is the follow-up to The Emancipation Of Mimi, Mariah’s triple-platinum selling album, is executive produced by Mariah Carey and Antonio “LA” Reid.

Mariah’s new single “Bye Bye” was serviced to radio last week.

::TOP STORIES::

Has FLOW Radio Lost Its Way?

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry, Pop & Jazz Critic

(April 27, 2008) When Canada's first urban music station rebranded itself last fall, the obvious changes – bolder marketing colours, new morning team – hardly justified the addition of "new" to its moniker. It was the subtle differences, such as its positioning statement, which shifted from "Toronto's hip hop and R&B station" to "hits that move you," a generic advertising campaign, that confirmed the evolution of the seven-year-old station from a hip-hop based entity to a more Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) format.

"When we started out we were probably more urban, but the music has also changed," explained vice-president of operations Nicole Jolly, pointing to less delineation between erstwhile mainstream pop acts like Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake and hip-hop/R&B stars Timbaland and Chris Brown.

"There used to be an urban chart and a Top 40 chart. Now you see a mom listening to Snoop beside her 14-year-old daughter. The music has come to the middle and we're going along with the times. We're playing rhythmic hits – the top of charts, excluding rock-based music."

Three months after its 2001 debut, some listeners threatened a boycott over the station's favouring hip hop instead of an eclectic mix of reggae, soca, jazz and R&B. With the New FLOW 93.5 playing less hip hop, some believe the station has abandoned its cultural roots in pursuit of material gains.

They aired their displeasure on anti-FLOW Facebook pages with combined memberships of more than 3,500. Such posts were typical:

"So disappointed with the changes at FLOW. It doesn't sound any different now than 103.5 ... way too much pop music. C'mon, Maroon 5, Brittany (sic) Spears?" (Faith States Linton/Nov. 21)

"I can't even describe how disappointed I am with their new campaign. It seems as if they intend to just blend in to the huge crowd of top 40 pop station here in Toronto." (Matt Lewis/Nov. 22)

Some took the station's side:

"If the format they had when they first launched the station was working, they wouldn't be redoing their station. How many of you that WANT all hip hop actually LISTENED when they HAD hip hop? A radio station has to have listeners to sell airtime, they need to sell airtime to make money, and they need money to keep the lights on." (Shannon Jodi/Nov. 22)

FLOW has been making a profit for the last few years, said Jolly.

While the latest figures from BBM Canada, the organization that monitors listening habits across the country, show small increases in listenership among FLOW's 18-34 target audience, including its highest ever morning show ratings, the station's 2.6 market share has barely surpassed the 2.3 showing of its inaugural year. But experts say ratings don't tell the whole story.

"Over time they are making some gains and making inroads with money demographics," said marketing and radio consultant David Bray of Hennessey & Bray Communications. "They're becoming more viable from a financial standpoint, an advertising standpoint. I suppose were they to become a little more CHR-oriented, while maintaining their urban rhythmic slant, they could probably boost their numbers."

And further incense those who believe that Milestone Communications Inc. has reneged on its promise to people who supported its politically charged 10-year bid to win a license from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Milestone's application promised "modern day reflection of rich musical traditions of black musicians and black-influenced music over at least the past century" as well as "a significant amount of spoken word and open-line programming" dealing with topics of particular interest to the black community, including live broadcasts of jazz and world beat concerts.

While the station carries morning news briefs, there are no talk shows. Jazz and oldies programming is gone and reggae, calypso and gospel are relegated to Sunday.

"If the mix on FLOW was better I'd tune in," said disgruntled Pickering listener Klive Walker. "But you don't hear Latin and African music. Their argument that to survive ... they have to do what they're doing is weak. They could broaden the programming and play a whole mix of music that reflects the city and get more listeners and advertisers would jump on board."

Nonetheless, the station draws a respectable 425,000 weekly listeners, including Walker's 15-year-old daughter Aisha.

"It's kind of a battle between us," she said of her father's attempts to commandeer the car radio. "I like FLOW because it's current and I can relate to the dialogue. My dad likes some songs I like, but the stuff he doesn't like is played a lot."

Toronto-based journalist and radio producer Norman (Otis) Richmond derides the station's absence of serious discourse.

"The black people in Toronto are among the most literate in the world," he said. "I hear black people talk about issues from left to right on The Fan and CFRB. We're not just a boogie people; infantile hip hop is not going to hold us."

Dub poet and CBC-TV reporter Clifton Joseph holds a similar view.

"They have no relevance to the black community," he said. "A lot of violence and education issues are concentrated within FLOW's demographic and they have ample chance to edify. We thought this station would hold the media to account through example and advocacy. At least if they were No. 1 they could justify what they've done."

Milestone's license comes up for renewal every six years, but programming conditions weren't built in.

"We tried very hard to fulfill expectations, but certain things are not commercially viable," Jolly explained. "Do people not think that if we could play reggae or zydeco 24 hours a day and triple our ratings we would not do it? We did start out playing these things and it hurt us. Until (critics) walk down here with a cheque to pay our staff and light bills ... the best they can do is get people's tastes to change, then they can get what they want on radio."

Ratings are only half the issue: fact is, some advertisers were leery of associating with a hip-hop based station.

"Our buyers are feeling a little less reluctant," explained vice-president of sales Byron Garby, noting that FLOW has landed nearly a dozen more blue-chip advertisers in the eight months since its rebranding. "The negative stigma that came with the music reflected on the audience."

That doesn't surprise consultant Bray.

"Hip hop and some urban rhythmic music is most certainly associated with younger people, who have lower discretionary income, and with certain cultures, like the Caribbean community, where some suggest households don't index in the higher income brackets," he added, "but Toronto is the most culturally diverse city in the world and to not want to address that market is a big mistake."

On one hand, FLOW seems to be distancing itself from its urban (read black) foundation; "We don't talk about being an ethnic station, we're mainstream," said Garby. But in 2006, Milestone challenged a CRTC application from the Caribbean and African Radio Network (CARN) on the basis that it "was already meeting the listening needs of the black community."

"Do we have a black station on the dial?" asks CARN chair Fitzroy Gordon, who is currently lobbying the feds for the co-operation of CBC Radio to get 98.7 FM on the air. (The partial licence CARN garnered includes the condition that it must play 50 per cent world beat and international music.)

Milestone CEO Denham Jolly (Nicole's father) was the first black person in Canada to receive a radio license. FLOW's program director, Wayne Williams, is believed to be the only black person in the country in that position on commercial radio. And the station still has a strong community mandate, consistently supporting organizations like the Jamaican Canadian Association and the Black Business and Professionals Association, as well as a minority-focused scholarship at Ryerson University. Jolly takes pride in pointing out the station's career-boosting promotion of local black artists like Jully Black, Divine Brown and Kardinal Offishall.

But Gordon raises a question that many are now asking in light of the most recent changes at FLOW. Is it decision makers, audience, on-air personalities or music – what defines a black station?

It's where the music "emanates from historically," posited Canadian Idol judge Farley Flex, FLOW's first music director. "In terms of who makes it, that's wide open."

He does, however, decry the "inauthentic voices" of some of the station's current on-air personalities. On Facebook, that's discussed in black-and-white terms, with writers debating the racial origins of the new morning show team.

For Flex, it's more visceral. "I can't relate to them," he said. "They should choose people who emanate a sense of authenticity with the music they play. It's not about grammar. It's about the timbre of their voices. It's about sound."

FLOW, Then And Now: In Ads And On The Charts

Despite the relaunch, FLOW's Top 10 charts this week and four years earlier reflect similar musical tastes.

April 21, 2004:

1. J-Kwon, "Tipsy"
2. Avant, "Don't Take Your Love Away"
3. Keshia Chante, "Bad Boy"
4. Alicia Keys, "If I Ain't Got You"
5. Usher feat. Ludacris and Lil' Jon, "Yeah"
6. Mario Winans, "I Don't Wanna Know"
7. Beyoncé, "Naughty Girl"
8. Joe feat. G-Unit, "Ride Wit U"
9. Usher, "Burn"
10. Kayne West feat. Syleena Johnson, "All Falls Down"

April 21, 2008:

1. Usher feat. Young Jeezy, "Love In This Club"
2. Lil Wayne feat. Static Major, "Lollipop"
3. Kardinal Offishall feat. Akon, "Dangerous"
4. Ne-Yo, "Closer"
5. Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, "4 Minutes"
6. Ray J feat. Yung Berg, "Sexy Can I"
7. Jordin Sparks feat. Chris Brown, "No Air"
8. Chris Brown, "With You"
9. Estelle feat. Kanye West, "American Boy"
10. Mariah Carey, "Touch My Body"

Black School Site Is Picked

Excerpt from www.thestar.com -
Louise Brown

(April 26, 2008) Canada's first Africentric alternative school will be a school within a school – not a free-standing building – and is being proposed for a wing of sprawling Sheppard Public School near the northwest corner of Sheppard Ave. W. and Keele St.

The pilot program, which Sheppard principal Ira Applebaum called an "exciting opportunity" in a letter last night to parents, would be open to children of any background across Toronto, from junior kindergarten to Grade 5, who would wish to enrol in September 2009.

While the idea will be discussed this week at a meeting with families of Sheppard's 287 students – and would then have to be approved by the Toronto District School Board at its May 21 meeting – area trustee James Pasternak said the Africentric program would bolster a school with falling enrolment and add a "vibrant" special program that would not be totally separate from the regular school system.

"There's this misconception of two solitudes running down the halls, but that's incorrect – these kids (in the regular school and the Africentric wing) would be together in the schoolyard, together in the playground, together in the lunchroom," said Pasternak.

The board voted in January to try an Africentric alternative school with high expectations, high parent involvement and a curriculum that focuses on black history, literature and study of the black experience wherever possible, as one way to engage more black students, whose 40 per cent dropout rate is among the highest in the city.

While the original proposal from parents was for a free-standing Africentric alternative school like those in the United States, this school-within-a-school is a "made-in-Toronto solution," said Lloyd McKell, the board's executive officer of student and community equity.

"We want there to be opportunities for collaboration between staff because in actual fact, we want it to be a place where we can develop some of the best practices (for engaging black students) so we can share them with all schools," said McKell.

"It has to be a unique environment with its own unique approach, but there's no point in having a school where we learn things other teachers cannot share."

Premier Dalton McGuinty has said he opposes a racially focused school, but would prefer a model that operates as a school within a school. The concept has drawn fiery arguments for and against, including within the black community.

Fifty-year-old Sheppard School, once bursting with more than 1,000 students from then bustling Downsview air force base, has lost so many students over the years it has a number of unused classrooms and has had to lay off teachers, said Applebaum. Not only would the school benefit from more students, he said, but its diverse student body makes it a good fit for a culturally focused program.

"We have 35 languages spoken in our school and by bringing in teachers and a focus on Africentric programs, we'll infuse everyone's cultural perspectives," said the veteran educator. The school already runs two after-school black heritage programs and several international language courses.

As well as the Africentric pilot project, the board also has voted to launch Africentric courses in a number of mainstream schools – some have been pilot-tested over the past two years in subjects from music to history – and a board-wide action plan to make all schools more relevant to all students.

While most agree more needs to be done to engage disaffected black students, many feel an Africentric program smacks of segregation.

If the Africentric alternative program is located in Sheppard, students would likely enter through the same front door as regular students, then proceed to their own wing, but would share the school's lunchroom, playground and library, and be eligible to join the same school teams and after-school clubs, said McKell.

He said the curriculum would not just be an extended version of Black History Month.

"We're not just teaching the achievements of people of African descent," he said. "We want teachers to incorporate a mix of cultural perspectives that are truly inclusive, that address the experiences of children of all backgrounds, including people of African-Canadian descent.

"And then we can learn from each other."

McKell said if the board gives the Africentric school the final green light in May, it will begin inviting applications from across the city. If interest proves strong, there are enough classrooms on two floors to accommodate more than one class per grade. If not enough students apply in the higher grades, McKell said they could start the program in the lower grades first and then "grow the enrolment" year by year, even as high as Grade 8, if demand warrants.

The school was chosen from among 11 possible sites partly because it is handy to public transit and has two gyms and a large playground, said McKell.

Pasternak's ward was scouted for a possible site because he voted in favour of the Africentric alternative school in January, whereas trustee Stephnie Payne in the ward next door voted against it.

"Because it's a school within a school it's very fiscally responsible," said Pasternak, "and we believe we have enough community partners and existing budget to fulfill whatever we need."


HOW DOES NEW SCHOOL WORK?

The Africentric alternative school would be a first in Canada.

Q: When is it going to open?

A: Plans call for the school to open in September 2009.

Q: How is the site being chosen?

A: A team of Toronto District School Board staff and community advisers has consulted in recent weeks to find a school that would welcome the new pilot program, and where there is room. On May 7, a proposal will go to the board's Program and School Services Committee, and the full board will vote on it May 21.

Q: Will the school be open only to black students?

A: No. As with any public school, children of any background will be able to attend, although the majority of students who wish to enrol are expected to be black.

Q: What if more children want to attend than there is room for?

A: The board would have to decide whether to choose further applicants by lottery or on a first-come, first-served basis.

Q: Will the school have only black teachers and support staff?

A: No. The school will be open to all qualified staff, although it is expected to become a magnet for black educators wishing to serve as role models, and those with a background in Africentric curriculum.

Q: What curriculum will students follow?

A: Students will follow the Ontario curriculum, but lessons will focus where possible on contributions made by Africans and black Canadians, and issues relevant to the African-Canadians' experience.

Q: What would this look like?

A: Hundreds of students already have sampled Africentric courses being pilot-tested at each grade level in a variety of subjects.

In Grade 3 history, for example, where the Ontario curriculum covers "early settlement in Upper Canada and aboriginal peoples," an Africentric curriculum could focus on the challenges faced by black pioneers in Upper Canada.

Q: Why is the idea being proposed?

A: It is one of several ways the board hopes to reduce a 40 per cent dropout rate among black teenagers.

Education Reporter

Season Over For Deflated Raptors

Source:  www.thestar.com - Doug Smith,
Sports Reporter

(April 29, 2008) ORLANDO, FLA.–A season that began with such promise and so many expectations has ended with more questions than answers, the failings of a roster laid out for all to see in a beating administered by a better team.

Everyone connected with the
Raptors will begin the painful process of self-evaluation today, secure in the knowledge that no matter what they said or thought, it was proven quite conclusively they are not now as good as the Orlando Magic, let alone the top echelon of NBA teams.

Losing the best-of-seven series in five games will be a bitter pill for general manager Bryan Colangelo, coach Sam Mitchell and the players to swallow. Losing in the manner in which they did will be even more difficult to accept.

"They played a great series, they executed on offence and defence better than we did and when it came to the small things, they did a better job," Chris Bosh said after the Magic ended Toronto's season with a 102-92 Game 5 victory last night.

"I can't sit here and bark in protest that the better team didn't win. That's pretty obvious. They beat us pretty good."

The Magic pulled away in the final five minutes to subdue a Toronto team that had played about as well as it could for the first three quarters and a little bit.

But when it came time to make a big play, for someone to step outside himself and dominate a few minutes, no one could.

It is the failing of the Raptor roster that they don't have that player or than none emerged over the course of the season.

After clawing back from down seven to within 84-82, the Raptors went four straight possessions without scoring a point and Orlando's 8-0 run with about four minutes left effectively ended the season.

"If we have somebody that is aggressive on the offensive end, creating plays, making shots and getting to the basket ..." said Bosh, his thought trailing off. "I think we have some shooters, but if our shooters develop a talent where they can take guys off the dribble, that'll make us a lot better."

Sort of what Orlando is. In Hedo Turkoglu (18 points last night) and Rashard Lewis (12 points) the Magic have precisely the kind of players the Raptors need.

It was glaringly apparent last night – as it has been all season – that no one has emerged in the role.

Toronto also had no answer for Dwight Howard, who finished with as many rebounds (21) as points.

And with Bosh held in check most of last night with 16 points and nine rebounds, Toronto couldn't find enough offence to sneak out a win.

"I told our guys after the game, `Get your heads up,'" said Mitchell. "We knew coming into this series that we needed to score points. We weren't going to hold this team to 70 or 80 points because they've got so many weapons. We just didn't score enough."

It now lies with Colangelo to begin his assessment and make some moves.

There isn't a lot of money to spend to attract new players, but he will have to be aggressive in trying to fill the holes that exist on this team after a season that has to be considered a disappointment.

"That's what it's been, ups and downs," said Bosh. "Everybody had a lot of expectations for us this year, especially with the things we did last year. We definitely raised the bar for ourselves and a lot of people were looking for us to do the same thing we did in the regular season last year.

"We were bothered by injuries a lot, we didn't play as well as we thought we could at times, but all said, we still made the playoffs. We were still in a position to win and that's all you can ask for in the league."

The series loss represents the second straight year the Raptors have bowed out in the first round and the franchise still has only one series victory in its history.

"We can't let this discourage us," said Bosh. "We're still going to have our nucleus back next season and we just have to work and get better and remember some of these things.

"Remember how the playoffs are going to be, remember how the Magic played, remember how good teams played all year."

Apple's Popular iPhone Coming To Canada

Source:  www.thestar.com - Chris Sorensen,
Business Reporter

(April 29, 2008) The wait appears to finally be over for Canadians eager to get their hands on the popular iPhone.

Nearly 10 months after the gadget was first unveiled to U.S. consumers, Rogers Communications Inc. confirmed Tuesday it has come to a deal with Apple Inc. to offer the all-in-one cellphone, iPod and Web browsing device in Canada.

Rogers, the only wireless carrier in the country with a compatible GSM network, didn’t offer details on a launch date or pricing.

“We're thrilled to announce that we have a deal with Apple to bring the iPhone to Canada later this year,” said Ted Rogers, the cable giant’s CEO, in a short statement.

“We can't tell you any more about it right now, but stay tuned.”

The confirmation comes after months of guessing about a Canadian launch date for the iPhone, which is expected to compete with Research In Motion Ltd.’s line of BlackBerry smartphones.

The Star reported late last week that Rogers had been hoping to introduce the iPhone between May and July as part of a larger promotional campaign that focused on touchscreen devices.

Apple first unveiled the device in the United State last June amid a media frenzy.

Observers had speculated the delayed Canadian launch was due to difficult negotiations over pricing and a trademark dispute with Comwave Telecom Inc.

Rogers said on Tuesday its first-quarter profit more than doubled, thanks to growth in its Internet and digital cable subscriber base.

Rogers earned $344 million, or 54 Canadian cents a share, during the quarter, compared to $170 million, or 26 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue, meanwhile, rose 14 per cent to $2.6 billion.

::TRAVEL NEWS::

A Trip of a Lifetime to Africa

Source: Ope Linda Olurakinse, Planet Africa Magazine (www.planetafrica.net)

(Special Issue 2008) For many years,
Leslie Salmon Jones had dreamed of making a trip to African to connect with the history and visit the slave castles.  Though she had been forced to cancel a few times due to family health issues and other unexpected matters, Jones and her husband Jeff, finally made it to the Motherland last summer.

“We went to explore the possibility of finding a country to invest in and how we could be of service to our African brothers and sisters,” says Jones, a certified personal trainer, wellness coach and professional dancer.

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Jones comes from a mixed lineage herself.  Amazingly, three of her grandparents were from Jamaica and the only grandparent she knew was her Canadian grandmother of Irish and Scottish descent.

While Jones is frustrated to know that she can only trace her Jamaican roots back a generation or two, it has always been easy to trace her European roots back to Scotland.

“Unfortunately, the records weren’t well maintained so there’s not a lot that we can do to get the lost history,” says Jones.  Ironically, the U.S. slave traders kept pretty good records of their inventory.

Born in Boston, her husband Jeff attends his family reunions regularly.  He is able to trace his roots from a young female slave, who was brought to the United States through Wilmington, North Carolina, effortlessly. 

Jones got to a point where she discovered a new purpose.  The trip to Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin was full and rich on many levels. A real eye opener, a visit to the slave castle made her realize the impact of global colonization.

“It was an empowering experience to connect with the people and to see the similarities in people of the African Diaspora, whether they were of Caribbean, American or European decent,” she said.

Jones was interested in seeing the richness of Africa.  She knows the frustration of not having adequate infrastructure to develop and maintain the resources.  She is concerned about the strong presence of Chinese and other foreigners in Africa, and the sustainability of Africa’s resources.

“Many eyes are on Africa and there are plenty of opportunists who see the resources that the continent has to offer.  Whether they have Africans in their best interest will be revealed,” says Jones, adding that time will tell.

Making a trip to Africa takes more than an open mind.  It requires patience.  Jones and her husband Jeff, found out they needed to adapt to their new environment and were grateful for the little things that they would take advantage of in America.

Jones found a lack of connection to tradition, when it came to spiritual practices.  Many adapted Christianity instead.  She found it interesting that the history of slavery involves Europeans using Christianity as a method to enslave Africans.

“As a dancer and my husband being a musician, I was looking forward to bask in some beautiful ceremonial traditions and rituals that I heard so much about,” says Jones.  She found that not many Africans have maintained their traditional practices.

Her most memorable moments included a visit to the slave castle, venturing to Mole National Park in Ghana, following the paths of elephants who took a mud bath, hiking up to a remote village in the mountains of Kpalime, Togo, and connecting with the amazing and amazed locals. 

Having visited the other end of the earth, Jones is more appreciative of her ancestors. She realized the importance of visiting the Motherland and how she can be of help and also learn from the people.

Jones says she is "overwhelmed with the thought of the long journey that our ancestors survived in such horrific conditions; their strength, faith and courage. It makes me very proud to feel connected to such a strong and healthy ancestry."

Going to Africa gave Jones a strong sense of who she is. She believes her ancestors must have prayed that one day they would return to the Motherland. It is overpowering to know that their dreams and prayers have been actualized.

Jones believes that it would be helpful for youth who place a high value on their lives and those around them. "We here in the Western world have been blind-sided by the effects of slavery and colonization.

She says, "We are bombarded daily with negative messages of being 'Black'. By visiting Africa, you understand the magnitude and impact of methodical dehumanization and cultural sterilization of the African people. You also appreciate the beauty, resilience and prospects of Africa."

Jones and her husband also gained an understanding of the two month journey that Africans took to arrive at the slave castles. The raping of the women, eating horrible food, family separations, and being stripped of their identity are just some of the highlights of the slavery business.


"It's eye-opening to make the connection to the same methods used hundreds of years ago, and how they are still being implemented on some levels today, in a more sophisticated manner," says Jones.

She believes that African people are incredibly resilient and now is the time to collectively stand up for change. Jones also realized the disconnection and lack of understanding of each other's experiences like siblings who had been separated at birth and raised in foreign environments.

For people planning to go to Africa, Jones says, "You need an open mind and patience. If you go there with a tour group try to connect with the people so that your experience can be authentic and meaningful." She believes that people, who have the means to help, must realize that there art more ways to make a difference.

As the couple, who have been happily married for 11 years, returned home to Boston, they plan to start a family. They are excited, having visited Larabanga, Ghana, they received fertility dolls that were prayed over by a 110-year-old chief, so they can become fruitful.

Jones has visited North and West Africa. She would also like to visit East and Southern Africa. She and her husband would love to invest in the continent, but must muster up the money and patience to handle doing business in the developing world. For now, the couple sends funds to support their new friends.

::MUSIC NEWS::

Marcus Miller: All That Jazz

Excerpt from
www.eurweb.com - By Kenya M. Yarbrough

(April 25, 2008) *Jazz bassist Marcus Miller wears a lot of hats, and not just an array of cool caps and hip Fedoras. The jazzman is also a hitmaking producer, a collaborator, and a first-rate cruise activities director.

That's right, cruise director.

Maestro Miller is playing host of the Playboy Jazz Cruise happening January 25 through February 1, 2009.

The cruise not only includes all the amenities of cruising and traveling, but also features performances from jazz legends such as Herbie Hancock, Diane Reeves, Pancho Sanchez, Keb' Mo', Kirk Whalum, and Roy Hargrove, just to name a few.

"If you get some of the greatest musicians in the world on that boat and get a couple of thousand people that are just crazy about music - the atmosphere is ridiculous," Miller hyped. "It's like being in New Orleans or one of those towns where there's music every where you turn."

Miller described that the cruise ship features a huge concert hall and other smaller venues that will have shipmates seriously rockin' the boat at after-hours jam sessions.

"If you like music, it's pretty incredible."

He also explained that though jazz fans might not be opposed, the music doesn't go on 24/7. There are cruise components and amenities that jazz cruisers can partake of during the day, including Caribbean dock stops in San Juan, Nevis, St. Barths, and Half Moon Cay.

"During the day, people are just enjoying being on the boat. And we're going to some pretty nice places," Miller added. "And then when they get back, there are two concerts."

 While half the cruisers are having dinner, the other half are will be enjoying the evening's main concert. Then they switch and those that were watching the show go to dinner and those that were eating go to the second show.

"Each night we have a different featured performer, so each performer has a night. Then after, there are different parties going on different parts of the boat," Miller told EUR's Lee Bailey. "We'll have jam sessions going on in the nooks and crannies where people can get to hear musicians doing their thing in settings that they're not used to hearing them do their thing."

And as for the musicians being in a setting they're not particularly used to performing in? Miller said the stars were a bit hesitant at first, because of that concern and the concern that they wouldn't be able to take a break from the crowd.

"But when they realized that the people who come on the ship are the absolute die-hards, it [made] the musicians feel great. They realize how much love is out there for them."

In addition to hearing legendary jazz artists in intimate settings, a major show, and enjoying the beautiful scenery, Miller added that there's an added bonus.

"One of the coolest things is that you're sitting there at a concert, you're enjoying the music and you're really into it and you can sense when the concert is getting ready to end. Usually, that's the point where you begin to think about, 'Where did I park my car?' or 'When is the next train going home?' or 'I need to check in with the babysitter' - real life comes back. The thing with this cruise is that that's not a consideration," he said.

Miller serves as host of the entire event, designer and producer of the concerts, show emcee, and is also known to give lessons on jazz and music appreciation while on stage.

 "I'm the one who makes sure everybody has a good time. It's a lot of work, but it's a new way to present music to people, so I'm really into it."

Still, this job only covers some of the hats the musician wears. He is, most of all a jazz bassist and his new self-titled disc ("Marcus") can attest to that - and his creative production, collabo, and arranger skills.

But with such an elaborative talent, why the simple first name title on the new project?

"I've had a long career and I began to realize that different people knew me as completely different things," he began to explain. "Some people knew me as Luther Vandross' producer; other people knew me as a film scorer; other people knew me as a bass player; and a lot of those people didn't realize it was the same guy. So I really wanted to do an album where I kind of opened it up and showed people a lot of what I'm about instead of doing just one thing. I figured I'd call it 'Marcus,' to say, 'This is who I am' and kind of present my whole self to people."

The Grammy winning artist recruited Corinne Bailey Rae, Keb' Mo', Russell Simmon's Def Poetry star Shihan the Poet, Lalah Hathaway, and actress/singer Taraji Henson ("Hustle & Flow") for help on the disc, released March 4.

Miller coaxes Rae through Denise Williams' "Free," and both Lalah Hathaway and Taraji Henson on Robin Thicke's "Lost Without You" (separate tracks). "Marcus" also features a funked up version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," Miles Davis' "Jean Pierre," and Tower of Power's "What is Hip?"

He masters contemporary collaborations, which is not surprising as the hitmaker who worked with Vandross on his hits like "The Power of Love," "Never Too Much," and "Till My Baby Comes Home" and with music legends Frank Sinatra, LL Cool J, and Eric Clapton.

"It was very natural," Miller said of compiling genres and styles for "Marcus," "but the problem when you do an album like that, you're worried that it's not going to hold together; it won't be cohesive and it will sound like the radio as opposed to a [single] artist. But I've become more confident that my bass sound and they way I put music together will hold it together no matter what style I'm doing. So, I feel very good about it."

For more on Marcus Miller and his new CD, "Marcus," hit up his website at www.marcusmiller.com.

For more on the Playboy Jazz Cruise, go to www.playboyjazzcruise.com

RDX Signs With Universal Japan

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(April 24, 2008) duo RDX has signed with Universal Music Japan. The one-album deal, with possible options, was recently sealed by the duo's publishing company, Jamdown Music, which is based in the UK.

Carlton 'Renegade' Williams, one half of the RDX duo declined to disclose much about the deal, when contacted for a comment on the weekend. "It was handled by our publishing company, Jamdown Music, and we are working on an album that is coming out this summer in Japan," said Williams.

The album, which is still untitled, will contain 14 tracks including two bonus cuts. "The songs that people know RDX for will all be there, plus many more. We have a collaboration with Richie Stephens and there might be a surprise or two, but I can't say much more right now," Williams added. RDX comprises Williams and Andre 'Delomar' Bedward. The duo shot to the top of the charts last year with hits including Dance and Everybody Dance. They picked up an award for Best Duo/Group at the recently held EME Awards. Subsequently, the duo was nominated in the Reggae Academy and Irie FM Music Awards.

RDX formed in 2005, after both members broke away from the Xcytement Gang trio. The other member of that outfit is currently pursing other musical interests.

Williams declined to state what the deal meant in terms of monetary value. However, a source close to the duo reliably informed the Observer that the deal was close to US$50,000.

Williams stated that the duo has creative control over the album. A video for the song Everybody Dance will be re-shot on film under the direction of Rick Elgood. "We will be adding a club scene to the video, but we still want to keep the Dutty Fridayz theme," said Williams.

RDX is currently being managed by Dwayne Edwards of R&R Records. The duo's latest single, Dancers Anthem, is already making moves on the charts.

Universal Music Japan (UMusic Japan) is a subsidiary of the US based Universal Music Group (UMG). It is the largest record label in Japan. Universal Music Group has a 25.5 % market share and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Vivendi.

Herbie Hancock To Open Vancouver Jazz Festival

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
J.D. Considine

(April 24, 2008) Having just been voted "Best Jazz Festival" in the National Jazz Awards a few weeks ago, the TD Canada Trust Vancouver International Jazz Festival doesn't seem ready to rest on its laurels.

Indeed, the program for its 2008 season, which was announced yesterday, was as ambitious as ever, with stellar offerings both from the jazz mainstream (Brad Mehldau, Wynton Marsalis) and its experimental fringes (Satoko Fujii, the Barry Guy New Orchestra), as well as a number of improvisation-oriented groove bands (Maceo Parker, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80).

Running from June 20-29, plus a set of free Canada Day shows July 1 on Granville Island, the Vancouver festival will offer more than 400 concerts, 130 of which are free.

Perhaps the biggest news is that
Herbie Hancock, fresh off his Album of the Year Grammy win, will open the festival June 20 with a group including saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. But the group likely to have the most impact on the festival will be bassist Barry Guy's New Orchestra (June 24-25), a border-crossing new-music ensemble featuring such renowned improvisers as saxophonists Evan Parker and Mats Gustafsson, trumpeter Herb Robertson and percussionist Paul Lytton. Not only will the band itself perform, but its members will turn up in a variety of small-ensemble settings, many of them unique to the festival.

Of course, sometimes the festival's one-off collaborations succeed so well that they become ongoing projects. That was certainly the case with the trio of saxophonist John Butcher, bassist Torsten Muller and drummer Dylan van der Schyff, who cut an album (Way Out Northwest) at last year's festival and play again this year (June 20). Other avant-garde events of note include Japanese pianist/composer Fujii in a duet with violinist Carla Kihlstedt (June 26, with the Peggy Lee Band opening), Seattle pianist Wayne Horvitz's Gravitas Quartet (June 27) and The Thing with Ken Vandermark, which pairs the Chicago saxophonist with Gustafsson (June 23).

Closer to the mainstream. Wynton Marsalis brings the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (June 27), the John Scofield Trio joins E.S.T. (June 24), the Brad Mehldau Trio have an evening to themselves (June 25) and Bill Frisell opens for the Cowboy Junkies (June 22).

On top of the usual panoply of instrumentalists, this year's festival will have a special emphasis on singers. Naturally, there are jazz giants such as Mose Allison (June 23) and Andy Bey (June 28, with pianist Monty Alexander opening), and blues stars including John Hammond (June 26) and Susan Tedeschi (June 24). But the festival also offers such far-flung talents as Brazilian Ivan Lins (June 23, with Molly Johnson opening), Nigerian Seun Kuti (June 25) and Chinese jazz singer Coco Zhao (June 24-25).

Nothing Spared In Flawless Work

Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds,
Classical Music Critic

Idomeneo
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Opera Atelier. Directed by Marshall Pynkoski. Andrew Parrott, conductor. To May 3. Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St.
416-872-5555

(April 28, 2008) In an all-new production of Mozart's first great, serious opera,
Idomeneo, Opera Atelier has scored one of its greatest triumphs.

The singing is superb. The orchestra, excellent. The staging is rich, textured and colourful.

There wasn't a sour note or a dull moment at the premiere on Saturday night at the Elgin Theatre, which counts for something when applied to a work that, in itself, is not a great opera.

Although there are several ensemble scenes and great choruses, this three-act drama (with a happy ending) is really a succession of dramatic monologues. They tell the tale of Idomeneo, King of Crete, whose life is spared in a shipwreck, on one condition: that he make a sacrifice to the god Neptune. That person is his son Idamante.

After a series of moral and emotional tangles, order is restored as Idomeneo cedes his kingdom to his son and his fiancée, Ilia.

In his fusion of Italian opera seria with French love of grand spectacle, Mozart created a work brimming with gorgeous music but which is difficult to stage in a cohesive way. Marshall Pynkoski's brilliant touch is in making Idomeneo cohere beautifully by applying the dramatic conventions of Baroque opera to this much later work (premiered in 1781), giving everyone and everything onstage a formal framework.

Gerard Gauci has painted gorgeous new trompe l'oeil sets, which are complemented by rich, fresh costumes by Margaret Lamb. Jeannette Zingg's dance corps is a fluid, expressive addition to the chorus scenes and the grand celebration that closes the opera.

Everything moves well and looks great. The Tafelmusik orchestra, playing on period instruments, offers a finely nuanced accompaniment under the baton of Andrew Parrott. But it's the singing that gives this production its full wow factor, from the chorus and minor roles, right up to the leads.

Toronto soprano Measha Brueggergosman is stellar as Elettra, whose thwarted love for Idamante has a tragic end. The young diva doesn't sing opera often, but the role's an ideal match for her talents.

American male soprano Michael Maniaci is not just a freak of nature but a genuine artist with tremendous vocal technique as he fully inhabits the role of Idamante.

Lyric soprano Peggy Kriha Dye is the very model of a Mozart ingénue as Ilia. And Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer's gorgeous vocal delivery is the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove.

This production is a treat for the eyes, ears and mind. Don't miss it.

MUSIC TIDBITS

Tribe Called Quest, Nas To Rock The Bells

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(April 24, 2008) *Hip Hop circa late 80s/early 90s will be in full effect this summer as part of the annual Rock the Bells tour, featuring performances by A (reunited) Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Mos Def, De La Soul, Rakim and the reunited Pharcyde, among others.  "They asked me, and I immediately decided to do it," A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip tells Billboard. "With the amazing line-up, Rock the Bells is definitely this summer's must see show. Plus, Rock the Bells has given me the opportunity to reunite with my legendary cohorts -- Ali and Phife -- and premiere my latest material from 'The Renaissance.'"   The festival tour will begin July 19 in Chicago and roll through amphitheaters in 10 major North American cities before wrapping Aug. 30 in Vancouver. This year marks the first time Rock the Bells will visit Toronto (July 20), Vancouver and Philadelphia (Aug. 3).   Also on the bill in various markets are Method Man & Redman, Raekwon & Ghostface (Cuban Linx), Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Murs and Kidz In the Hall, along with hosts Supernatural and B-Real of Cypress Hill.

Coldplay Offers Free Download Of New Single

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Associated Press

(April 28, 2008) LONDON – Coldplay says it will make the first single from its new album available for a free download to fans who visit the English band's website. The single "Violet Hill" will be available on www.coldplay.com Tuesday, one week before it goes on sale. The website will also give preliminary details about free shows at London's Brixton Academy on June 16 and at New York's Madison Square Garden on June 23. The band also announced on Monday that the U.K. release of its new album – Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends – has been moved up four days to June 12. That is the same day the album will be released in much of the world.

Wainwright Receives GLAAD Award

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Associated Press

(April 28, 2008) Los Angeles — Canadian-born musician
Rufus Wainwright won the Stephen F. Kolzak Award, in honour of the late casting director who fought homophobia in the entertainment industry, at the 19th annual Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Awards at the Kodak Theatre on Saturday night. Brothers & Sisters and Ugly Betty received awards for outstanding drama and comedy series. Both shows, which feature openly gay or transsexual regular characters, received the same awards last year from GLAAD. On Brothers & Sisters, Matthew Rhys plays Kevin, a lawyer sibling whose dating life is frequently depicted on the drama. Ugly Betty features Marc St. James, the flamboyantly gay assistant played by Michael Urie, as well as Alexis Meade, the transsexual editor played by Rebecca Romijn.

Bob Marley's Mom Remembered In Kingston

Source: www.eurweb.com

(April 29, 2008) *The body of Bob Marley's mother Cedella Booker was laid to rest Monday alongside her famous son in his hometown of Nine Miles, Jamaica, according to reports. Thousands of mourners paid their last respects during a tribute Sunday in Kingston's National Stadium, where her casket – draped in blue, red, yellow and black cloths, the colors of the Rastafarian faith – was on display.  Richard Booker, one of two sons from a second marriage, remembered his mother as a deeply spiritual woman who joyfully cared for her family. "She read her Bible every day and listened to gospel music every evening," he told crowds of friends and relatives who gathered as drummers performed traditional Rastafarian rhythms and chants. Cedella Booker, a native Jamaican, was 18 when she married 50-year-old British man Norval Marley. The reggae music of their son Bob Marley would attract worldwide fame before his 1981 death of a brain tumour at age 36. Booker, who was 81 at the time of her death on April 8, is survived by two children and several grandchildren.

Kay Gee Re-Launches Record Label

Source: www.eurweb.com

(April 30, 2008) *Naughty By Nature's Kay Gee is preparing to re-launch his record label Divine Mill under a new partnership with Merovingian Music (MRV).    The joint venture calls for Divine Mill to focus on artist equity participation and a proper and controlled marketing approach, while working with Caroline/EMI to distribute Divine Mill projects worldwide.   "For me, this deal with EMI and MRV was a no-brainer," stated Kay Gee, who is looking forward to furthering the Divine Mill brand. "My passion has always been finding and developing new talent, and this new joint venture will enable me to do that and more. I am looking forward to furthering the Divine Mill brand."   Kay Gee's production resume includes tracks for Luther Vandross, Mary J Blige, Aaliyah, Yolanda Adams and Michael Jackson.  "The music created by Kay Gee is part of the fabric of our lives, says MRV CEO Jack Ponti. "He’s an enormous talent with a special eye on spotting and nurturing new talent. The current climate of the music industry is a perfect time for growth of new and exciting models, one of which the incredible Divine Mill brand fits into."  

::FILM NEWS::

Atom's Latest Only Canadian Contender For The Palme

Source: www.thestar.com - Peter Howell,
Movie Critic

(April 24, 2008) Toronto filmmaker Atom Egoyan is driving the Don Valley Parkway all the way to the Cannes Film Festival in France next month.

His new drama Adoration, the sole Canadian contender for this year's Palme d'Or, is set in a Toronto high school. And for once, the city won't be pretending to be somewhere else.

"In this one, it's resolutely Toronto," Egoyan told the Star yesterday. "Not only that, one of the major characters is the Don Valley Parkway. You'll see."

Adoration, which Egoyan wrote and directed, is the sole Canadian ticket to ride amongst 20 films announced yesterday for the official Palme competition at the 61st Cannes Film Festival, May 14-25. The film stars numerous Toronto actors, including Scott Speedman, Rachel Blanchard and Arsinée Khanjian (Egoyan's wife).

It will be up against a strong international slate that includes new works by Clint Eastwood, Steven Soderbergh, Wim Wenders, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Walter Salles and Charlie Kaufman.

Big names are also in the fest's non-competitive program: Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona will both have their world premieres on the Croisette.

This will be Egoyan's fifth time competing for the Palme, but familiarity hasn't dulled his anticipation. He knows he's up against some of the world's greatest moviemakers.

"It's a pretty tough year. It seems so shocking when you see that list."

Most of his previous Cannes contenders, Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Felicia's Journey and Where the Truth Lies, were set outside Toronto. Exotica was on the city's outskirts.

Adoration brings it all back home, both in location and in style. The film explores the interactions between students at a Toronto high school (Danforth Collegiate & Technical Institute was used for filming) both in the hallways and online.

Egoyan is fascinated with how people act differently in person than they do on the Internet. His film, set slightly in the future, anticipates an advanced form of webchats where teens interact in large groups through multiple video screens, not just text or voice.

As with all Egoyan films, there are subplots and subtexts: a character in the film has a connection to a real-life terror plot.

The fact he's even going to Cannes is something of a surprise. A month ago, Egoyan was saying that he didn't think Adoration would be ready in time for consideration

Also surprising the Cannes cognoscenti is word that Eastwood and Soderbergh made the cut for the Palme competition, the highest honour on the festival circuit.

Clint Eastwood's The Changeling, a 1920s-era kidnap thriller starring Angelina Jolie, wasn't on the radar for this year's fest. It will also be Eastwood's fifth film to compete for the Palme.

And Soderbergh's four-hour Che Guevara biopic Che – split into two films called The Argentine and Guerrilla – will compete despite word last week that it wasn't anywhere near completion.

Egoyan has something else to celebrate this spring. On May 19, he'll be in Israel to accept his one-third share of the $1 million Dan David Prize at Tel Aviv University, which he's receiving in honour of his 2002 film Ararat.

Egoyan shares the prize with British playwright Tom Stoppard and Israeli author Amos Oz. He said he'd use some of the money to set up scholarships at the University of Toronto, where he's been serving as the Dean's Distinguished Visitor in Theatre, Film, Music and Video Studies at the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Veteran Producer Prefers To Shoot Movies In Toronto

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara, Entertainment Reporter

(April 27, 2008) Don Carmody likes to film in Toronto.

So much so that the producer used the clout he's built up over more than two decades to insist that his latest film, Amelia – chronicling the life of pilot Amelia Earhart – would do most of its principal shooting in Toronto, with additional shoots in Nova Scotia and South Africa.

For Carmody – whose credits include Oscar-winner Chicago, which was also filmed in Toronto (to the chagrin of that other city) – it was a matter of putting his foot down.

"I tend to force the issue," Carmody said. "I'm at a level where I can do that and say, `if you want to make the movie . . . I'm going to make it in Toronto.' That's part of what's happened with Amelia. I just said, `Look, I feel comfortable here, I can do it here and get better value,' and my partners basically let me do it.

"Toronto and Ontario are very welcoming and very supportive of the industry, through the Toronto Film Board and Ontario Media Development Corporation," he added.

Persuading mega-stars Hilary Swank and Richard Gere to come to Toronto was not a problem.

"The city itself is a great attraction (for actors). It's not 18 hours away, like Sydney, Australia. It's not somewhere dangerous, like Romania, or difficult to live in. That's an attraction," Carmody said.

But the big attraction, from a practical point of view, is the expertise and quality the city offers to filmmakers. "The infrastructure is here. Very few cities have the film infrastructure of Toronto or Vancouver, let's say, except for New York, Los Angeles and to a lesser extent, Chicago."

Technicolor and Deluxe, the world's top two film laboratories, also have facilities in the city, so "you don't have to ship your film hundreds of miles, risking that some idiot at customs is going to open it up and expose several hundred thousand dollars worth of work," he added.

The imminent opening of Filmport – with its massive sound stages – is the final piece in the puzzle that will allow Toronto to compete with the big players for big-budget films, Carmody said.

In fact, it's the lack of mega-studio space that forced Carmody to film his not-yet-released film Whiteout in Montreal last year.

Producer/director Roland Emmerich, who created such giant special effects-laden classics as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, has gone to Montreal to remake Fantastic Voyage for the same reason.

In other words, Carmody said, when it comes to studio space, size matters.

With all the elements in place for Toronto to reclaim its former role as Hollywood North, Carmody's only remaining concern rests with the federal government, which killed a major tax shelter incentive program a decade ago and has yet to update its tax credit program.

"The federal tax credit has been stuck in the same place for 10 years now and ... they really should increase it if they want to be in the game," Carmody said.

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com - R.M. Vaughan

(April 23, 2008) The search for a "drugless high" has taken some strange, and usually unreliable, turns in the past 40 years: aromatherapy, Sensurround, tantric sex, yogic flying, virtual reality goggles, seaweed-embedded T-shirts...

Toronto filmmaker Nik Sheehan's latest flick, Flicker, examines one of the weirdest modes of mental transportation ever devised: Canadian artist and mystic Brion Gysin's Dream Machine, a gyro purported to mimic the alpha waves our brains produce during dream states.

Invented during Gysin's Beat period, when he spent his days making art and artificially replicating his own alpha waves with the likes of William S. Burroughs and Paul Bowles, the Dream Machine looks like a lampshade that has been attacked by a Rototiller and set on top of a turntable. As the shade turns, rapidly changing, flickering patterns of light and dark are projected onto the viewer's face, and, allegedly, hallucinations soon follow.

For Flicker, Sheehan travelled to New York, Paris and London to meet with the remaining few of Gysin's artistic contemporaries (Iggy Pop and Marianne Faithfull among them) and asked each one to, literally, give the dervish a whirl. The results are predictable enough - visionaries have visions, after all - but what is most striking about Flicker is how ready the participants are to drop everything for a quick tiptoe through the talking tulips.

Thus, Flicker is ultimately more about our need for the unreal than it is about any unreality-generating gizmo. Sheehan's focus may linger on Gysin's perspective-altering art object, but the film works best when it shows us how the need for transcendence is eternal, and so powerful that even geniuses will jump at the chance for a sprinkle of pixie dust.

Here's where I get confused: Does the Dream Machine cause hallucinations, or activate what's already in our brains?

Hallucinations and neurological reactions are related. True hallucinations only happen to a small percentage of the people who look into the machine - in fact, definitely a minority. Others will see shapes and symbols, and they often talk of colours that they can't even describe. And then there's a chunk of people who will get absolutely nothing.

How big a chunk? What are the numbers?

Well, ha! It can't be scientifically verified because nobody's done a proper study. All the studies were cut off in the sixties because the machine was associated with all these beatniks on drugs!

When you say hallucination, do you mean the whole "There's a train coming at me! There are bugs on my face!" routine?

Absolutely! One woman saw visions of the antebellum South!

When you filmed people using the Dream Machine, how did you know whether or not the presence of your camera caused them to, shall we say, exaggerate their responses?

Well, this is the interesting thing. To me, the machine is just a delicious metaphor, and it's visually fascinating. So, at the beginning, I didn't really care if it actually worked or not. But after I had the machine built and brought it home, I turned it on and kaboom! I had a full-blown vision of angels flying at me. It was astonishing.

The feathery kind or the bat-winged kind?

Actually, I think the happy kind. More like the little cute ones you see in those biblical books. Whether that was imprinted on my memory or whatever I don't know, but it was definitely a hallucination. So I take the people in the film at their word.

Do you use the machine every day now?

Ha! No, no. It's an ungainly and difficult thing to set up. People keep asking me if I'm going to start manufacturing them, and, um, no. But good luck to anyone who wants to.

Who owns the copyright to the device?

Nobody, because Brion Gysin is long dead. But that's one of the delicious things about the whole beat culture - they intended things not to be caught up in copyright. I mean, Gysin died in poverty and he spent his life bitter and angry, not comprehending why the Dream Machine did not become a massive success.

Ikea could make them.

Good idea! But this is 2008 - safety concerns are everywhere. One in 4,000 people will have an epileptic seizure when they get in front of it. In our world of bean counters, that's a legal problem.

Some of the people you interview have well-documented drug histories. I suspect Marianne Faithfull, for instance, could achieve a hallucination watching water boil.

Iggy Pop claims he doesn't actually look into the machine, he just likes the experience around it. And Kenneth Anger directly says it doesn't work unless you smoke pot first. So, while it's true that many of these people have experience with altered states, the goal is a drugless high.

But does it work on squares?

I suspect it does. The bottom line is, it's a mental attitude. You have to open your mind to it. If you allow it in, it will have some effect. I will tell you, though, in the middle of a dark and nasty Canadian winter, at 3 in the afternoon, when the world outside is just dreary ... it's very refreshing!

Particulars

BORN: London, March 17, 1960

A SERIOUS START: Sheehan made an early documentary about AIDS, No Sad Songs (1985), which helped bring the suffering of AIDS victims to light. (CITY-TV broadcast a shortened version in prime time in 1987.)

WHIMSY: Over the two decades since, Sheehan has had a varied filmmaking career. In the mid-1990s, he produced and directed Symposium: Ladder of Love, a takeoff on Plato that brought a crowd of collaborators - including Daniel MacIvor, Brad Fraser, Tomson Highway, Patricia Rozema and Charles Pachter - to present ideas about the nature of love. He also made two biographical documentaries, on expat Torontonian artist Scott Symons (God's Fool) and drawing teacher Paul Young (The Drawing Master).

They Use Our Skills And Our Streets, Not Our Stories

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(April 27, 2008) When the new Mike Myers comedy The Love Guru arrives June 20, Toronto moviegoers will finally have a chance to see their city come out of hiding.

The film wasn't just made in T.O, using locations like the Air Canada Centre and Casa Loma. It's actually set here. For once, dear ol' Hogtown isn't pretending to be a U.S. city like New York, Chicago, Detroit or Baltimore. But it's not likely to start a trend.

The Incredible Hulk, also shot in Toronto, will lumber down a more predictable path when it opens June 13. The trailer shows Edward Norton's Hulk roaring through a supposed New York avenue, passing such Yonge St. landmarks as Sam the Record Man, the Zanzibar Tavern and The Big Slice pizzeria.

In the thriller Max Payne, which has been filming here this past winter with Mark Wahlberg, the city is once again passing itself off as New York, the most common of Toronto disguises. It is the paradox of Toronto that even while the city enjoys international recognition and acclaim for the annual Toronto International Film Festival, the burg can't catch a break when it comes to actually appearing as itself in movies.

You are as likely to see the CN Tower in a Hollywood movie as you are the Abominable Snowman. It's almost inconceivable to think of a film being made in Paris without showing the Eiffel Tower. Yet Paris is rarely called upon to wear a mask the way Toronto so often is.

If Toronto ever does sneak itself into Hollywood footage, it's usually in jest. Such as when Steve Martin's guru capitalist in Baby Mama says he wants to build an organic food store in the shape of the seashell he stepped on while jogging barefoot "in the Toronto airport," of all places.

In fairness, it's not just Americans who try to dress Toronto up in red, white and blue. Canucks are every bit as guilty. It's common to see Canadian actors spending U.S. currency on Toronto streets that are made to look American.

Rare is the Canadian movie that makes Toronto central to its premise. People still immediately think of Don Shebib's Goin' Down the Road, a drama of Maritimers adrift in T.O., as the quintessential Toronto movie. It shows Yonge St. as Yonge St., and also has the Sam's sign. But it was released in 1970.

Even the Scarborough-born Myers plays the game: his sly Wayne's World tribute to Tim Horton's and Johnny's Hamburgers, two iconic Toronto (and Canadian) hangouts, morphed on screen into a fake American restaurant called Stan Mikita's, named after the Chicago Blackhawks hockey ace.

Why the reluctance to make Toronto a star locale? Historically, there have been all sorts of reasons why filmmakers have been happy to make movies here, and the arrival of the new Filmport facility is intended to goose that enthusiasm.

There's an abundant of skilled talent in Toronto, along with obliging city officials and citizens who are still thrilled about being in the movies. Until recently, the cheaper Canuck buck was also an incentive to shoot here.

Yet filmmakers are reluctant to identify the city by name. One reason is one of the city's big selling points: sheer blandness. Most downtown buildings could be anywhere in North America. As long as you keep the CN Tower and the Canadian flag out of the shot, Toronto can stand in for any generic U.S. burg, and often does. Last summer's musical Hairspray was filmed in part on our streets, with TTC streetcars no less, yet it's set in Baltimore. Can you think of a less exciting U.S. city than Baltimore? It's the place blown to smithereens by an atomic bomb in the 2002 thriller The Sum of All Fears.

Canadian producer Don Carmody (Chicago, Resident Evil, Porky's) says Toronto isn't alone in its celluloid anonymity. Many other non-American cities, including our archrival Montreal, are frequently made to look Yankee.

"This all stems from the Golden Age of Hollywood when it was widely perceived that the popularity of Hollywood films was due in large part to people not only in America, but around the world, wanting to see how the other half lived," he said via email.

"Even though there are plenty of examples (generally British) of successful commercial films set in other countries and cities with foreign casts, the studios consider these to be lucky aberrations and still insist on portraying everything as set in the USA ... Their reasoning is, `Why take a chance?'"

The situation may be changing, ever so slightly. Toronto filmmaker Atom Egoyan shot his new movie, Adoration, here, and he's proud to say that, for the first time in many a moon, his movie is also clearly set here. He even refers to the Don Valley Parkway as one of the film's major "characters."

Adoration is the sole Canadian contender for the Palme d'Or at next month's Cannes Film Festival. Egoyan is happy to wave the flag for both Toronto and Canada.

"That's the most thrilling thing to me," he said in an interview.

"I love the idea of representing not only the country but also very specifically the city. It's really a story that in many ways could only have been set here, and could only have been made here."

Wow. Is it time for Toronto to finally come out of the shadows?

Toronto Seeks To Regain 'Hollywood North' Mantle

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara,
Entertainment Reporter

(April 26, 2008) Has Hollywood North gone west for good?

A decade ago, Toronto's film and television production industry was Canada's undisputed leader.

But west coast rival Vancouver has overtaken our once-mighty metropolis in overall numbers, in part due to the SARS outbreak in 2003 that sent productions fleeing to less risky locales.

While the industry made a slight recovery in 2004, the rise of the Canadian dollar – now hovering around par with the U.S. dollar – combined with a wave of intense competition from U.S. states and countries around the world has since left Toronto's struggling film/TV industry humbled but determined to regain its former status.

The June opening of Filmport, Toronto's long-awaited state-of-the-art studio complex, just might do the trick.

Mayor David Miller, noting that the industry and its associated economic spin-offs still contribute more than $1 billion to Toronto's economy and play a vital role in the city's future economic strength, has thrown the weight of his office behind efforts to revive filmmaking in the city.

"Having screen-based industries and the media and all of those thinking, creative kinds of jobs in the city has economic spin-offs well beyond the direct impact of over $1 billion," he said in an interview.

"Film and television production is a critical part of being that kind of vibrant, fun, interesting, dynamic city. It's very important. It helps welcome industries like computer software, biotechnology, industries that are based on thinking and creativity."

One of Miller's first initiatives after being elected mayor in 2003 was the creation of a Toronto film board, which includes industry representatives, a film commissioner and a stream-lined "one-stop" shopping process to permits.

The tide appears to be turning, with on-location production in Toronto jumping to $755.8 million last year over $704 million in 2006 (these figures include movies, TV shows, commercials and music videos). Production in the city had been on the down slope since peaking at $1.3 billion in 2000, allowing Vancouver to claim bragging rights from Toronto as the No. 3 movie production centre in North America after Los Angeles and New York.

But the road to recovery is fraught with challenges.

In recent weeks, Manitoba and New York announced increases in the tax credits to lure production.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Louisiana and New Mexico and other U.S. states have generous tax credit programs that are persuading U.S. producers to stay home. Even the tax credit offered by the Ontario government is slightly more generous for films shooting outside of Toronto's city limits, which has meant a boom for places like Hamilton and an extra commute for Toronto-based crews.

Last year, the number of U.S. productions coming to Canada declined, though it was offset by an increase in domestic production, said Sandra Cunningham, chair of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association.

But the U.S. is only part of the competition, Cunningham said.

"We're competing with the rest of the world. We still are very competitive with our labour rates in terms of American jurisdictions. But if you go to Romania or New Zealand or Australia, you can actually hire for less than Canada."

While Vancouver has received a major boost from being a short flight and in the same time zone as Los Angeles, Montreal is also stealing a lot of Toronto's limelight, especially in big-budget films.

Montreal has recently landed three films with $100 million-plus budgets – including mega-filmmaker Roland Emmerich's remake of Fantastic Voyage – due to the size and quality of its film studios.

Both Vancouver and Montreal – with government support – have been able to exploit the lack of high-quality studio space in Toronto.

That's about to change with the opening of the first phase of Filmport – which includes one of the world's largest sound stages nearing completion in the portlands near the eastern waterfront. The new complex has six smaller sound stages open for business now, with a ribbon-cutting slated for June 5.

"For the first time, we can really go out to the market and compete with the best in a brand new state-of-the-art facility. We can say, `Toronto's getting better, we have more to offer, come and take a look at us again,'" says Toronto's film commissioner Peter Finestone.

Senior executives with Hollywood's major and independent studios have just completed a two-day visit of the Filmport site and the rest of the city, a tour jointly arranged by the city and the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

"Our goal is to have them (executives) here and show them directly and in-person the fabulous assets we have," said corporation CEO Karen Thorne-Stone.

Through its film board, Toronto has also launched a couple of initiatives to attract new business, including free location permits and offering U.S. productions a rate based on a 78-cent dollar on street parking and all city services.

Finestone noted that Pinewood Pictures, a major British studio, is planning to find a permanent studio space that would be in direct competition with Filmport. He said this new space would allow the city's industry to tap into a lucrative new market from Europe while once again taking advantage of our lower currency. "When you compare the Canadian dollar to the British pound and the Euro, we have an advantage," he said.

The city and the Ontario Media Development Corp. are also jointly trying to develop what they call the "Green Screen" initiative, creating a new set of industry sustainable best-practices to capitalize on the growing consciousness among big movie stars.

"Hopefully, we'll get the superstars who care a lot about (the environment) saying, `I want my next picture made in Toronto,'" Finestone said. "It's a challenging industry even at the best of times. We got to a place that was difficult. I think we're ready to come out of that."

Jeffrey Wright: The Blackout Interview With Kam Williams

Excerpt from
www.eurweb.com - Paula Citron

(April 26, 2008) *Jeffrey Wright was born on December 7, 1965 in Washington, DC where he was raised by his mother, an attorney, with the help of her sister, a nurse, following the untimely death of his father when he was still a baby.

After attending a prep school, Jeffrey enrolled at Amherst College, discovering his love for the stage on his way to completing work for a bachelor's degree in Political Science.

Next, he earned a scholarship to NYU's prestigious film school, but dropped out after only two months to pursue a professional acting career.

In 1994, the gifted thespian won a Tony Award for his spellbinding performance as "Belize" in Tony Kushner's award-winning Broadway play "Angels in America."

A couple of years later, Wright would enjoy his breakout role on the big screen as the title character in Basquiat. The versatile scene-stealer has since made innumerable memorable appearances, mostly as a second banana in such flicks as Shaft, Ali, Syriana, The Manchrian Candidate, Casino Royale, Lackawanna Blues and The Invasion.

As for his private life, Jeffrey is married to Carmen Ejogo, the Scottish-Nigerian actress he met on the set of Boycott, where they played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The couple lives I Brooklyn which is where they are raising their two children. Here, he takes about his latest film, Blackout, recently released on DVD, a drama revisiting the chaos and looting which erupted in East Flatbush during the Great Blackout of 2003.

Kam Williams: Jeffrey, thanks so much for the time.

Jeffrey Wright:  Thank you.

KW: Well, there are a million things I'd like to talk to you about. Let me start by asking you what interested you in Blackout?

JW: It was a film about my neighbourhood, essentially. I live a bike ride away from Flatbush in Brooklyn. So, it was an opportunity to tell a story that was close to home. It was also an opportunity for me to experience the blackout, since I was out of the country when it actually went down. And I had heard nothing about this side of the New York story. Where I was, it was all reported as Chianti and Kumbaya. So, that things had gone down was news to me. In fact, when [director] Jerry LaMothe first approached me about the project, I went online to see what I could dig up, and couldn't find any references to it. But going over to the neighbourhood and talking to the folks about it, I learned that it had been a very different story for them than had been presented through the mainstream media. So, this particular story represented in many ways how the lives and experiences of certain sectors of the American population go unnoticed. And it allowed us, as actors, to shed light on a story that might otherwise remain in the darkness.

KW: The picture shows how an already disadvantaged community's troubles can be further amplified by a disaster.

JW: Sure. sure. I'll tell you, I've rarely been on a film set that melted so organically into the location in which it was being shot. Folks who happened to be walking down the street ended up in the movie. While we were shooting in the barber shop, guys came in and got haircuts. I even offered to cut a few, but didn't get any takers. [Laughs] So there was an authenticity about it that was really special.  But at the same time, what I came to understand as well is that there's a volatility in that particular section of Brooklyn which would only, as you say, require an incident like the blackout to really spark something.

KW: I think of you in the same light as the equally-underrated Christian Bale, as two of the best actors never nominated for an Oscar. Whenever I watch you at work, you're always quite extraordinary.

JW: Well, thank you. Some of it's okay.

KW: When did you develop an interest in acting?

For full interview, go
HERE.

Makeup Artist Works 12- To 18-Hour Days In `Unforgiving Business'

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara, Entertainment Reporter

(April 27, 2008) It takes a special touch – literally –to be a makeup artist to the stars. Just ask Lynda McCormack.

"It's a very sensitive job because it's very tactile and you're right in their face all day. Everyone thinks of actors as being really outgoing people but a lot of them are very, very shy," said the 20-year veteran.

"For 12 to 18 hours a day, you are the person who has to touch them, has to make sure they're comfortable and that's a bit of a challenge. You have to do it delicately without having that person get annoyed and telling you, `Get away from me," said McCormack, who counts Anne Bancroft and Jacqueline Bisset among her favourite subjects.

McCormack got her start in the late 1980s, working on the low-budget horror film The Jitters with filmmaker John Fasano, going on to do makeup on four more of his films.

She's also worked with renowned special effects artist Stan Winston and served as personal makeup artist to actor Jeff Fahey.

Becoming a makeup technician was also a great opportunity for a single woman struggling to raise a young family.

"I love the movie industry. It's helped me raise both of my daughters. Not that either one of my daughters want anything to with it because of the ... late hours ... and all of the times I wasn't at home.

"But it's been a great industry for me. I've travelled a lot, met a lot of people, seen some wonderful performances and read some great scripts," McCormack said, adding that her work often involves research, especially for period pieces.

"Sometimes you're on a set – long days and long nights – and you see a performance that just shakes you because it's so incredibly good. And then, you remember that's why you do this," she added.

Times have changed from the days of foundation and grease paint, and with the advent of high-definition film, the rules have changed.

High-definition "means that every pore on the person's face you can see," McCormack said.

But while McCormack said she's always had steady employment, the same isn't true of colleagues who've struggled through the feast and famine cycles of the film industry.

"There are a lot of technicians out there who have had a much harder time, a lot of people who have lost their homes or relationships that have fallen apart because of the stress of (the business).

"It's an unforgiving business in that capacity," she added.

'It'd Be Nice To Work Where I Live'

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara

(April 27, 2008) R.H. Thomson struggles for a moment to recall the last movie he shot in Toronto. Then he ruefully provides the following advice: "Don't watch it."

It was Bugs, a low-budget horror flick starring former underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr.– and it was five long years ago.

For Thomson, a respected actor who's among the better known among the panoply of not-particularly-well-known Canadian actors, opportunities for film work in Toronto are few and far between.

If it wasn't for Tarragon Theatre and other stage work, the 30-year veteran would be the archetypical out-of-work actor.

"About three months ago, I came out of the subway on King St. ... and this guy came up to me and says, `you, you, you, didn't you used to be an actor?'" Thomson said ruefully in a recent interview.

Thomson flew to Regina last year for a role in the acclaimed CBC mini-series The Englishman's Boy, and more recently went to Greece to star in a film called Athanasia.

While the profession has always been a "crap shoot," Thomson pointed to a number of reasons why actors have a hard time finding work, especially in Toronto.

The first, Thomson said, goes back to 1999 when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission expanded the definition of what qualifies as a Canadian content during prime-time to include documentaries and reality TV. That quickly resulted in the marked reduction in the number of drama series running on major Canadian networks.

Secondly, as detailed by citizens' advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, private broadcasters have steadily increased spending on foreign programming – mostly from the U.S. – to the detriment of homegrown drama.

There's also been a drop in the number of U.S. productions coming to Toronto – as borne out by figures from the city's film commission – meaning fewer opportunities for Canadian actors.

"I am lucky. I've had a fairly good run. There's a lot of talented people out there who haven't had such a good run," Thomson said.

And while travelling across Canada and abroad is fine, "It would be nice to work where I live."

Jeff Bridges Shaves It All Off For Iron Man Role

Source:  www.thestar.com - Peter Howell,
Movie Critic

(April 29, 2008) Long-maned actor Jeff Bridges got into a little method acting to play Obadiah Stane, the flinty elder warmonger of Iron Man.

He happily shaved his head bald for this character of highly questionable ethics, who stands opposite Robert Downey Jr. in the latest Marvel Comics superhero movie, opening Thursday.

"It was wonderful," Bridges says on the wire from California.

"You gotta try it sometime, man. Seriously. You've never thought about it?"

Er, no. What's so great about it?

"You experience things a lot differently," Bridges enthuses.

"When you freshly shave, it's very slick and feels very interesting, sort of like being your forehead. After a few hours you get the shark-skin effect: you run your hand along, and it grabs. That's kind of a terrible feeling. Then you go to the teddy-bear-nose stage, which is perhaps my favourite. It feels like a teddy bear nose on the top of your head. Almost like velvet."

His hooray for hairlessness runs counter to his enduring image as The Dude, the shaggy slacker hero of The Big Lebowski, the 1998 Coen Bros. comedy that lives on. It's the most famous role for Bridges among the many he's played since 1951, when he debuted as a 2-year-old in the drama The Company She Keeps.

Legions of Dude cultists the world over celebrate the man at parties featuring careless grooming, bathrobes, bowling and gallons of White Russian drinks. There's even a how-to manual available titled I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski.

"It's wonderful to be in a movie that's appreciated by so many people, one that I appreciate as well. It's one of my flat-out favourite movies. Those guys (the Coens) really know how to do it and I'm there, man, if they ever want The Dude again."

Playing against type and messing with his image has always been the appeal of acting for Bridges, who was initially reluctant to follow his father Lloyd and older brother Beau into the trade.

Obadiah Stane is like Daddy Warbucks from Little Orphan Annie, although way more intense. He could either save the world or blow it up, depending on who is buying his military hardware. This is contrary to the personal beliefs of the peaceable Bridges, to say the least, but that's okay for make-believe.

"He's got the world's benefit in mind. He thinks he's doing good for the world. He's capable of doing unseemly things like killing people and stuff, but I think he feels that the ends justify the means. He's willing to be called a bad guy, but he's going to keep it all together so we can all go out and get high on Big Macs."

Iron Man runs deeper than most superhero movies by asking how far men and nations are willing to go to advance freedom.

Bridges poses the film's questions: "What are you willing to do? How funky are you willing to get to protect what you have?"

He didn't need much persuasion to do Iron Man. He's a fan of both actor-turned-director Jon Favreau (Elf) and co-star Downey, whose comedy turns in the film cracked him up.

"With Favreau at the helm, I knew that we were going to get something that kind of transcended the genre. I think it stirs up people's thoughts, as well as entertaining them."

The Internet Movie Database lists five movies featuring Bridges this year, Iron Man included. He's surprised at that news because, like The Dude, he doesn't like working so much. He chuckles as he owns up to his essential Dudeness.

"I like having as much time off as I can get. I try my hardest not to engage in a movie, because I enjoy my downtime. I know that when I climb on board to do a project there's a bunch of other stuff that I'm not going to be able to do. But when I engage, then it's balls to the wall."

He's also surprised – shocked would be a better word – to be told he'll turn 60 next year. He's old enough to have recently attended the wedding of his daughter, one of three from his 30-year marriage to wife Susan.

"Is that true, man? Not 60! 59!"

He forgets for a moment he was born Dec. 4, 1949. "Does that mean I'm already 59? But my next birthday is in December, and until then I'm still 58. Don't push me, man!"

He learned a few things in those decades of occasional wild living. He's happy to share.

"What's my advice? Have fun. Don't take it too seriously. Take it sincerely, but not too seriously. Have fun. And love, man!"

FILM TIDBITS

Teddy Riley, B2k Get 'Hype' For Paramount

Source: www.eurweb.com

(April 30, 2008) *Producer Teddy Riley is about to new-jack-swing into Paramount's upcoming movie "Hype Nation," which follows dance battles between American R&B group B2K and Korean dance crew the Gambler.     Riley will play a music director in the film, which begins shooting July 15 in the U.S. and then move to South Korea.    Alex Calzatti ("I Am Cuba") directs the project for Young Film's Young Lee, a Korean American producer who has previously partnered with American hip-hop artists.   The film is currently in search of a Korean female lead, according to Variety. Paramount plans to release the film worldwide in early 2009.

::TV NEWS::

Tina Fey A Cultural Icon? Don't Make Her Laugh

Excerpt from www.globeandmail.com -
Simon Houpt

(April 25, 2008) New York — Comedians as a lot are notoriously slow to laugh at what others say; they don't like to give away the sort of approval they work so hard to earn for themselves. Then there's Tina Fey, who appears to wholly lack the comedians' competitive gene. Making her laugh is easy: Just read her some of her own press.

Take, for example, the recent comment by Ben Silverman, the sharkish new head of NBC Entertainment (and thereby Fey's ultimate overlord), who predicted that the critical success of her sitcom, 30 Rock, which she created and in which she stars, and the just-released feature-film, Baby Mama, in which she stars but did not write (though everyone seems to think she did) will make her “a cultural icon.”

Mention this, and Fey does a spit-take without water; it is all she can do to half-repeat the phrase while stuttering in disbelief: “Culch-Ike!” she says (or something like that).

Actress Tina Fey poses for a portrait during a media day promoting the film Baby Mama in New York recently. The film will premiere at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival. Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Or ask, as she casually reclines here on a couch in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park South, if she thinks about that much-touted concept, the Tina Fey Brand. “All the time,” she nods seriously. “We're rolling out. We have a line of products. We have feminine napkins. Guns. Bobby Clarke fake teeth.” (She grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, watching the Flyers; we'll get to that.) “Wigs. Merkins.”

Okay, she's being modest (a characteristic which, as it happens, is part of the Tina Fey Brand). Because, though she'd deny it, Fey has navigated a canny transformation over the last five years, from head writer of Saturday Night Live and co-anchor of its news-parody segment, Weekend Update, into something much larger (and, yes, perhaps culturally iconic).

She is now, in the public imagination, a sort of funnier version of your next-door neighbour: a successful but self-effacing career woman and mother, approachable, sweet (if occasionally given to flashes of surrealism), sometimes sexy (albeit in that bespectacled-librarian kind of way); a comedian who tacks close to the foul line when tackling race and gender, without ever being mean-spirited or resorting to the off-colour language beloved by so many of her male counterparts.

Fey has achieved this by following a two-part rule, almost Buddhist in its simplicity, that more actors would be wise to abide: Capitalize on your talents, be aware of your limitations.

“I know that my job, certainly at this point, is to play a version of myself,” she says. Fey does this well, in many media and many guises: as Tina Fey, the overextended sitcom creator and mother of a 2 1/2-year-old girl, in a series of television and print ads for American Express; as 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, the unmarried, harried, faintly nerdy head of a fictional live comedy show on NBC who strains to please both her ethically unfettered boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and the self-centred star of her show, Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan); and now in Baby Mama as Kate Holbrook, the successful – albeit unmarried and infertile, and yes, faintly nerdy – 37-year-old Philadelphia businesswoman whose life is turned upside down, Odd Couple-style, when the surrogate mother she hired (Amy Poehler) moves in after breaking up with her boyfriend.

Michael McCullers, an SNL alumnus, wrote the film as a vehicle for Fey and Poehler, old friends from the Chicago improv scene whose chemistry was apparent to anyone who watched them as co-anchors of Weekend Update.

Fey quit the late-night show two years ago, but she hasn't left it far behind. Her boss is still the tireless SNL producer Lorne Michaels, and she often brings former cast-mates in to 30 Rock for guest spots. And her sensibility, as she has recently discovered, might still be more suited to late night than to prime time. Last week, The New York Times pressed NBC executives on the suitability of a recent episode of 30 Rock for the network's newly rebranded “family hour.”

The episode in question had included a fictional reality-TV show, beloved by Lemon's mostly male writing staff, entitled MILF Island, in which 20 “super-hot moms” engage in a Survivor-style battle for the privilege of staying on an island populated by 50 Grade 8 boys. (For those not abreast of such matters, MILF is an approving acronym referring to, well, hot moms.) Each week, one woman is voted off during a meeting at a place called Erection Cove.

“It's always amazing what shocks and what doesn't shock,” says Fey. “To me, there's crazy things on all day. You know, you can be watching The View at 11 o'clock in the morning, and you'll be like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the morning! What is going on?!' This thing made me realize that maybe I'm bringing more of a late-night sensibility than I realize. Because I'm from the old world of late night, with the masturbating bear on Conan. And Old French Whore on SNL. That's why I was, like: ‘Oh, why is this a big deal?' Because I normally would have been doing it at 12:45 a.m.

“To me, it's not that far from a fair amount of reality shows,” Fey explains about MILF Island. But even if anyone other than The New York Times was scandalized, 30 Rock's fake show within a show has quickly entered the pop-culture lexicon: A Google search for MILF Island turns up more than 140,000 hits.

Fey was back at SNL two months ago, for the show's first edition after the writers' strike, in which she visited the Weekend Update desk to deliver a pro-Hillary Clinton editorial that concluded: “Bitch is the new black.” 30 Rock is just as political, though not necessarily partisan. “The core of the show being Jack and Liz and Tracy,” says Fey, absentmindedly tracing a triangle on the fabric of the couch, then pausing to gather her thoughts. “There were a lot of different versions of the pilot, but once those three were together, to me it feels like a really juicy opportunity to talk about race and gender and power and stuff. That kind of stuff is interesting. Campaigns come and go.”

The fact that Fey has created a show about something meaningful has doubled the enchantment felt by her fans, many of whom (if discussion threads on blogs are to be believed) had previously considered themselves temperamentally impervious to a star's charms. But there's something in Fey's bearing, presentation and outsider sense of humour – not to mention her intelligence – that evidently leaves legions of adults slightly addled. (Not just men: Ask around at the office and see which woman doesn't have a girl crush on Fey.) Perhaps those fans, too, were ugly ducklings; maybe when they see Fey's airbrushed self on the cover of Marie Claire or Entertainment Weekly, or in a va-va-va-voom Annie Leibovitz glam shot for Vanity Fair taken in the back of a limousine, they imagine that her success is their success.

And for those fans whose gender politics preclude them from enjoying Fey's fashion shoots, she cautions that she knows it is all just a game. “I enjoy it as much as my daughter enjoys playing dress-up with the cardboard box of pink dresses that are under her crib from the Lillian Vernon catalogue. It's dress-up. Dress-up is inherently fun.”

She adds, “It's fun to be in a position where I don't have to take it seriously. Where things are not riding on it looking perfect. It's just a screw-around.”

In the end, she seems simply too in touch with reality to let those photographic fictions take on a life of their own. She is, after all, a former hockey geek. Born in 1970, Fey grew up watching the Philadelphia Flyers during their famed Broad Street Bullies days in the early-to-mid-1970s. Her father, who painted for a hobby, was such a fan that he executed a watercolour of a sweating, intense-looking Bobby Clarke, and hung it in the foyer of their home for many years.

This leads Fey into a story. “My first words, as a kid, as a toddler,” she begins, “I was in a playpen, in front of a hockey game, when my dad and my brother watched hockey, and Gene Hart, who was the Flyers announcer, used to always go, ‘Scoooooooorrrre!'” Fey slightly raises her arms in mock triumph. “And, um, I mimicked him, so my first word was ‘Scoooooooorrrre!' ”

She laughs and looks down, a little embarrassed. She probably knows she's being endearing. Who cares? In an industry of killer egos, modesty always wins.

Specialty TV Channels Made $2.7b In 2007, Says CRTC

Excerpt from www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(April 25, 2008) GATINEAU, QUE.–Specialty television channels including pay TV, pay-per-view and video-on-demand services brought in $2.7 billion in revenue last year, a 9.1 per cent increase over 2006, according to statistics compiled by the CRTC.

Profits for those services also rose substantially to $647.1 million, before deductions for interest and taxes paid. That's up 13 per cent from 2006.

By far the largest amount of revenue generated by the channels came from cable and satellite TV subscribers. Cable subscribers accounted for $1.2 billion while ExpressVu and StarChoice contributed a total of $574.8 million.

Advertising sales was the next-biggest source of revenue for the specialty channels, with $928.8 million from national advertising and $19.8 million from local advertising.

The channels also spent more on programming last year, although the amount spent of Canadian programming was up only modestly compared with the increased spending on foreign programming.

About $917.9 million was spent on Canadian programming, up 3.3 per cent from $888.4 million in 2006.

In contrast, the industry spent far less on foreign programming but the growth was stronger, rising by 10 per cent to $323.2 million from $293.8 million in 2006.

Last month, the CRTC released figures showing that the country's private-sector conventional television services trailed the specialty channels in terms of both revenue and profitability.

The conventional TV stations generated $2.2 billion in total revenue, including $1.5 billion from national advertising and the rest from local advertising.

Overall profit before interest and tax was $112.9 million in 2007, one about one-sixth as much as the specialty channels did over the same period.

The country's largest private-sector television companies, CTVglobemedia (TSX: BCE) and CanWest (TSX: CGS), have said they want cable and satellite operators to pay for distributing conventional channels much as they do now for specialty channels.

The major cable companies, primarily Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX: SJR.B) and Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX: RCI.B), oppose paying for conventional channels. They say higher subscriber fees would drive away customers.

There's Good News And Bad As The CRTC Hearings Wrap Up

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Kate Taylor

(April 26, 2008) There's a mother of a fight shaping up in the TV industry that could add several dollars to your monthly cable bill, but also expand your cable choices.

It's a battle that could force you to start paying for the CTV, Global and CBC-TV signals but give you access to top U.S. cable channels such as HBO and ESPN. And yet it might also trim basic cable back to a more affordable package, and help keep local newscasts on the air. It seems unlikely, on the other hand, to do much to bring back that endangered species, Canadian drama. The outcome for viewers will all depend on who wins when the Canadian broadcast regulator renders judgment after a fiery three-week review of the cable industry that wrapped up in Gatineau, Que., on Thursday.

The hearings under
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) chair Konrad von Finckenstein have been unusually broad - at times it seemed like every aspect of the Canadian television industry was on the table - but mainly they have pitted conventional private broadcasters CTV and Global against the cable companies. The broadcasters want the cable companies to start paying for their signals, the same way the cable companies pay the specialty channels. The cable companies' retort is that they provide the broadcasters with access to their viewers, and hence their ad revenue.

CTV and Global are asking for the so-called carriage fees because they say their revenues are plummeting; they have promised the CRTC that the money would go toward local programming, helping pay for the beleaguered local newscasts. Despite the fond hopes of Canadian television creators, they have not suggested the money would go toward Canadian drama, a genre that has shrivelled since a CRTC decision in 1999 expanded the definition of priority programming to include shows such as Canadian Idol and Entertainment Tonight Canada.

The cable companies aren't buying the broadcasters' cries of poverty and say that if the fees, at 50 cents per customer for each broadcast signal, are approved they will pass them directly on to consumers. How much that adds up to for you the consumer would depend on what market you are in and which broadcasters get the nod - the CBC has asked to be on the list, saying it would spend the money on Canadian drama - but estimates vary from $2 to $12.

Meanwhile, the cable companies want the CRTC to loosen the rules protecting the specialty channels from competition in their specific genres. Rogers Communications has suggested that licences be granted to Canadian competitors; Shaw Communications wants American services included. Shaw doesn't name them, but salivating TV junkies might guess that would mean channels such as HBO and ESPN. While Shaw has argued that consumers want more choice, Canadian creators say they don't hear any such clamour since much of these channels' programming is already available on similar Canadian specialties.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it was the message Ontario culture minister Aileen Carroll took to the CRTC this week. Her words echo those of many in the production industry who know that if you let U.S. specialties in, the business model of Canadian channels such as Showcase or the Food Network Canada, where the revenue from running U.S. shows underwrites the homegrown programming, would collapse.

Where will von Finckenstein come down? Predictions are that the broadcasters will probably win some kind of carriage fee. After all, they have been allowed to make their case anew to the CRTC after an unsuccessful attempt in 2006, and some observers felt they were getting a particularly sympathetic hearing this time. Meanwhile, cable executive Jim Shaw has certainly not endeared himself to von Finckenstein by skipping the hearings and attempting to go over the CRTC's head with a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper accusing the review of "fumbling toward deepening darkness."

Shaw's antics are wildly impolitic but the commission is obliged to make decisions based on law rather than personal animosity and is expected to throw a bone to the cable companies. That might mean allowing specialty competition in particularly strong genres such as sports, and perhaps some limited unbundling of channels so consumers have more choice in their packages. On the other hand, the CRTC may also force Rogers and Shaw to offer a cheaper, smaller basic-cable package.

To the surprise of many in both the business and cultural communities who believed von Finckenstein was ideologically committed to deregulation, the former judge and most recently the head of the Competition Bureau is proving to be a jurist first and foremost. He has repeatedly pointed out that the law that must guide him is the Broadcasting Act.

And the Broadcasting Act states that the broadcasting system's purpose is to strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada. Indeed, Shaw may be angry at the CRTC, which he accuses of departing from current government policy, precisely because von Finckenstein is not proving as interested in loosening restrictions as he might have hoped from a Tory appointee. Even arguing that carriage fees and competition among specialty channels will strengthen Canada is going to be a stretch; the HBOs of the world seem utterly irrelevant.

Renovated House Makes A Timely TV Return

Source: www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(April 28, 2008) The first thing you learn after buying a house is the need for constant renovation.

The same could also be said of
House, the snippy, snappy doctor dramedy that makes its much-anticipated post-strike return tonight in a new time slot, 9 p.m. on Fox and Global.

Hugh Laurie's breakout lead performance aside – at once compelling and repellent, and the antithesis of his comic British persona – one would have expected the high-concept format to have run out of steam by the end of last season. There are only so many rare, undetectable diseases, and only so many 11th-hour cures.

But with Laurie as its solid centre, and an apparently unending supply of exotic ailments overlooked by Grey's Anatomy (both the alternately spelled medical textbook and the competing series), the writers have been free to kick out the slats whenever things started to get too predictable.

Their most notable overhaul was last year's unprecedented turnover of most of the show's supporting cast – gone, perhaps, but by no means forgotten, as ensuing episodes promise to prove. That includes the four episodes that will end this season, starting with tonight's tale of a perplexing patient who is as resolutely nice as Gregory House is irredeemably nasty.

"Must be Canadian," snarls the good (bad) doctor.

To his new young colleagues, the case poses the question: if niceness is in fact a treatable condition, then what are we to make of House?

That is only the central dilemma, of course. There is also the customary comic relief, a battle for the heart and time of House's serenely soft-spoken chum, Wilson, and a nurses' strike as a framing scenario, an apparently intentional echo of the writers' walkout that interrupted the season.

If House is not your cup of T cells, tonight's a good night to check into Robson Arms, the West Coast apartment-block sitcom with a rotating residency of familiar faces from other shows like Corner Gas.

Joining them this season as their new landlord is Kid in the Hall and Newsradio star Dave Foley, with tonight's episode additionally featuring 22 Minutes' Gavin Crawford as a transgendered tenant.

With an extended Dancing With the Stars as its new lead-in, tonight's season opener airs commercial-free on CTV at 9:35-ish.

Now, about that new face at the top of this column ...

It is an old face, chronologically and professionally; I've been knocking around this newsroom for more than three decades, mostly as a movie critic, the last dozen years or so primarily on the TV beat, here and in Starweek.

My transition from big screen to small was fortuitously timed: just as the movies were starting to slide into a particularly uninspired and repetitive slump, television was undergoing a creative renaissance, as break-out cable hits like Sex and the City and The Sopranos raised the bar well beyond the reach of the networks, shaking them out of their complacent slumber.

I eventually came to realize, well after the fact, that as much as I had loved the movies, TV was my true calling. I was born in the late 1950s, a generation bathed from birth in the hypnotic glow of the cathode ray tube. TV was my constant companion, my babysitter, my mentor, my imaginary friend, an inexhaustible source of questionable role models and a somewhat skewed worldview.

I do not remember this, but my mother swears it's true. Apparently, on my first day of nursery school, I adamantly refused to go. It wasn't fear – I was quite looking forward to it. But the school bus had had the temerity to arrive right in the middle of Howdy Doody, and I was not about to miss my favourite show. VCRs and TiVo were still decades away. The only way my mom could get me out the door was to promise to watch the rest of it for me.

The die was cast. My fate was sealed. The writing was on the wall. I could never have dreamed it at the time – and it would take me 30 years to get there – but I somehow managed to find the only job in the world where they actually pay you to watch TV.

Canadian Actress, 18, To Lead Spinoff Of Beverly Hills, 90210

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Gayle Macdonald

(April 30, 2008) After spreading the net far and wide, America's CW Network has settled on an 18-year-old Canadian, Shenae Grimes, to play the lead female role in its upcoming spinoff of Aaron Spelling's steamy, seminal 1990s teen soap Beverly Hills, 90210.

Grimes, who has been playing former good girl Darcy Edwards on CTV's Degrassi: The Next Generation, will portray Annie Mills, the daughter of character Celia Mills (Full House alumna Lori Loughlin), an ex-Olympic athlete who relocates to Beverly Hills with her husband, the new principal of storied Beverly Hills High.

Grimes's casting in the role, which promises to be the contemporary equivalent of Brenda Walsh (played by Shannen Doherty in the original series) more or less quashes rumours that Hilary Duff was possibly going to jump on board.

The Toronto native is the second Canadian to join the show. The first cast member CW announced was Yellowknife's Dustin Milligan, 22, who plays Ethan, a buff, affable star athlete at the high school, which is a bastion of privilege and excess.

In the reincarnated series, the Mills family moves from Kansas to the world's most famous zip code to be closer to Annie's grandmother, a former film star with a drinking problem.

Yesterday, Grimes - who attends school in Toronto - declined to be interviewed. But her Toronto agent, Amanda Rosenthal (who also represents Brampton, Ont.'s Michael Cera), said the actress had sent an audition tape to 90210's producers, who then flew her down to Los Angeles twice for live tapings.

Degrassi executive producer Linda Schuyler said she was thrilled for the promising actress, who joined her long-running Canadian series four years ago. (It launched in the early eighties with The Kids of Degrassi Street.)

"She started out with a bit part - I'm not sure if she had one line in the first episode," said Schuyler, "but we watched her grow, and the more she grew, the more we threw at her." (Last year, Grimes's character was the victim of rape, spiralled into depression, and attempted suicide).

"Over the years, we've given a lot of young people opportunities," Schuyler added. "And that makes me proud - both of them and of our system at Degrassi."

For years, rumours circulated in Canadian TV circles that the late Spelling had at one time tried to buy the format rights to Degrassi for the United States. Yesterday, Schuyler chuckled at the speculation, adding, "I'd heard that Spelling had watched a lot of the early Degrassis, as well as read a lot of the scripts. But did Aaron Spelling ever talk to Linda Schuyler? No.

"It's not exactly an original idea to do a show about a bunch of kids in high school, but I do take tremendous pride in the fact that Degrassi was out there well before Beverly Hills, 90210. And we're in season eight of Degrassi: The Next Generation, and they're just kicking off this spinoff."

Last year, Grimes won a Gemini Award for best performance in a youth series for her part in Degrassi. She has also appeared in the short film The Crossroads, and co-starred in the CBC movie of the week, Shania.

TV TIDBITS

Viewers Can Watch 'Lost,' 'Grey's Anatomy' on CTV.CA

Excerpt from www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(April 25, 2008) Fans of the TV series Lost and Grey's Anatomy can now catch up with their favourite characters online. Episodes of the two shows have been posted for viewing at CTV.ca, with episodes of the salacious series Desperate Housewives soon to follow. CTV says this is the first time the three shows will be available online on a free, ad-supported basis in Canada. Each new episode will be posted after its West Coast broadcast and be available for 28 days. The site will also feature the last two episodes of each series broadcast before their recent hiatus, episode recaps, previews and, in the case of Lost, exclusive online content. The shows join more than 100 hours of programs already online at CTV, including Nip/Tuck, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Corner Gas, and Degrassi: The Next Generation. CTV says Gossip Girl returns online with new episodes next month.

Angela Bassett Checks Into NBC's 'ER'

Source: www.eurweb.com

(April 29, 2008) *
Angela Bassett will become a regular cast member on NBC's "ER" next year during its 15th and final season. The role will be her first full-time gig on a television series. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the actress will play a tough attending physician with a troubled past who returns to Chicago from Indonesia, where she was involved in tsunami relief. Her arrival in the second episode next season promises to shake up the staff at County General.  "Angela is a wonderfully talented actress whom I've long hoped to work with," said "ER" exec producer John Wells.  In addition to Bassett, original cast member Noah Wyle will join "ER" next season in at least four of the show's planned 19 episodes. Bassett, whose husband is actor Courtney B. Vance welcomed twins in January 2006 via a surrogate mother. She recently wrapped the B.I.G. biopic "Notorious."  

::THEATRE NEWS::

Happiness For A Song

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian,
Theatre Critic

Et si on chantait ...
(Out of 4)
Conceived and directed by Guy Mignault. Until May 10 at Berkeley St. Theatre Upstairs, 26 Berkeley St. 416-534-6604

(April 25, 2008) The musical revues that Théâtre Francais de Toronto frequently use to lighten their seasons are invariably crowd-pleasing charmers and
Et si on chantait..., which opened last night at the Berkeley St. Theatre Upstairs, is no exception.

Artistic director Guy Mignault has a knack of putting together songs in a seemingly random pattern that winds up yielding more cumulative substance than the average book musical. He also stages things with a disarmingly light hand and allows personality to triumph over pizazz every time.

The end result may not be to the taste of those who would be entranced, for example, by Dirty Dancing, but for a more sophisticated theatregoer with a penchant for Gallic philosophizing, these shows are just the ticket.

This time around, the theme is the search for happiness throughout one's life and Mignault accomplishes it with some just-brief-enough narration (delivered with genuine sweetness by young Pierre Simpson) and three dozen songs that run the gamut from Charles Trenet to Luc Plamondon.

We get everything from Felix Leclerc's musings on the fragility of "La vie" to Pierre Perret's naughty childhood gallery of penis synonyms in "Le Zizi."

There's a healthy dose of the kind of francophone songs you would have heard playing in the background at Expo '67 as well as a dose of operetta, some melancholy musings about middle age and a moving finale that juxtaposes Plamondon's "L'hymne à la beauté du monde" with the amazing "Dégénérations" by the contemporary Quebec folk group Mes Aïeux.

As usual, Mignault mixes his three veteran performers (Lyne Tremblay, France Gauthier and Robert Godin) with two relative newcomers (Amelie Lefebvre and Pierre Simpson) to fine effect.

No one is better than Tremblay at delivering those bottom-of-the-barrel ballads from a woman who's seen it all and liked little of what she's seen. Gauthier excels at radiating a combination of maternal warmth with wicked wisdom and Godin is the essence of every beloved uncle who's donned a funny hat to entertain you at a party.

Lefebvre is that wide-eyed waif with a flower stuck in the neck of her guitar and Simpson tries with great appeal to act older than his years.

The five of them together radiate a quality of genuine humanity that holds the evening together more solidly than a million special effects ever could.

On the negative side, the show is about 15 minutes too long and I wish that some of the music wasn't so blatantly synthesized, but those are small complaints.

It's easy to sing the praises of Et si on chantait ...

Picking At The Scab Of Meth Addiction

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - J. Kelly Nestruck

CRANKED
Written by Michael P. Northey
Music/beats by Kyprios and Stylust
Directed by Patrick McDonald
Performed by Kyle Cameron
At the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People in Toronto
***

(April 30, 2008) As
Cranked opens, Stan, a young hip-hop MC, is comparing the slow, lumbering zombies of old movies to the speedier ones of today's horror flicks. To him, the modern running undead seem more realistic: "When you crave flesh ... When it is the sole thing in the universe that you can focus on and you want it as bad as your next breath of air? Oh yeah, you will run."

Stan knows of what he speaks: He was a zombie once, one of those legions of blank-eyed addicts you pass on the street. The flesh he craved was crystal meth, that particularly insidious form of methamphetamine whose known aliases include ice, tina, glass, p, jib and - as in the title of this play - crank. Now, he has kicked the drug and is preparing backstage for his first freestyle competition since getting clean.

Created by British Columbia-based Green Thumb Theatre, Cranked is a musical written by Michael P. Northey with beats by a pair of hip-hop artists known as Kyprios and Sylust. Northey's slang seems up-to-date and his metaphors - like the zombie one - are well chosen for the young audiences this piece is intended for.

In between monologues, Stan - played by Kyle Cameron - charts his descent into addiction using rap, while as DJ Evan Brenner spins up on the balcony. Some of Stan's freestyle battles are dramatized, and he affectingly uses rhyme to finally open up to his drug counsellor.

In one flashback to the classroom - the timeline can get a bit confusing - Stan delivers a rap about how his father the tool salesman, who left his mother, is in fact a tool himself, instead of submitting an essay he was supposed to write about what his parents do for a living.

He gets sent to the principal's office, the only moment in the play that feels untrue. I suspect most public-school teachers these days would give him extra marks for creativity - or at least cut some slack to a student clearly having trouble at home. Still, when you're presenting theatre to teens, it doesn't hurt to get them onside by positioning teachers as the enemy.

Cameron is not a rapper by trade, but does a respectable job of impersonating one. He is excellent, however, at contorting his wiry frame to depict "tweaking," the compulsive twitching and picking at the skin that goes along with meth addiction. (Reminding me a bit of David Dawson's performance in Nicholas Nickleby; is it possible Smike was a meth-head?) Cameron is also quick to develop a rapport with his teenage audience, even challenging in character a kid or two who tried to squirm out of engaging with the piece through ironic laughter. The audience seemed comfortable relating to him. After the show I saw, one girl asked: How do you know if your pot is laced with meth? (The answer: You don't.) While Cranked never condescends, one of the websites Cameron referred the teens to during the Q&A session - an American site called staycrystalclear.com - was less useful, equating as it does drinking and smoking marijuana with using harder drugs. If you get as hysterical about beer and pot as you do about heroin and crystal meth, kids will write it all off as crying wolf.

The rise of meth use among teens across Canada is no joke, however.

Cranked doesn't shy away from the most disturbing elements. When Stan talks about picking at and eating his own scabs because of the chemical residue in them, the image burnt itself into my mind. If this was the case for others in the audience as well, then the play has done its job.

Cranked is at Toronto's Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People until Saturday, then touring through New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia. (information: http://www.greenthumb.bc.ca).

::DANCE NEWS::

Picking At The Scab Of Meth Addiction

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - J. Kelly Nestruck

CRANKED
Written by Michael P. Northey
Music/beats by Kyprios and Stylust
Directed by Patrick McDonald
Performed by Kyle Cameron
At the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People in Toronto
***

(April 30, 2008) As
Cranked opens, Stan, a young hip-hop MC, is comparing the slow, lumbering zombies of old movies to the speedier ones of today's horror flicks. To him, the modern running undead seem more realistic: "When you crave flesh ... When it is the sole thing in the universe that you can focus on and you want it as bad as your next breath of air? Oh yeah, you will run."

Stan knows of what he speaks: He was a zombie once, one of those legions of blank-eyed addicts you pass on the street. The flesh he craved was crystal meth, that particularly insidious form of methamphetamine whose known aliases include ice, tina, glass, p, jib and - as in the title of this play - crank. Now, he has kicked the drug and is preparing backstage for his first freestyle competition since getting clean.

Created by British Columbia-based Green Thumb Theatre, Cranked is a musical written by Michael P. Northey with beats by a pair of hip-hop artists known as Kyprios and Sylust. Northey's slang seems up-to-date and his metaphors - like the zombie one - are well chosen for the young audiences this piece is intended for.

In between monologues, Stan - played by Kyle Cameron - charts his descent into addiction using rap, while as DJ Evan Brenner spins up on the balcony. Some of Stan's freestyle battles are dramatized, and he affectingly uses rhyme to finally open up to his drug counsellor.

In one flashback to the classroom - the timeline can get a bit confusing - Stan delivers a rap about how his father the tool salesman, who left his mother, is in fact a tool himself, instead of submitting an essay he was supposed to write about what his parents do for a living.

He gets sent to the principal's office, the only moment in the play that feels untrue. I suspect most public-school teachers these days would give him extra marks for creativity - or at least cut some slack to a student clearly having trouble at home. Still, when you're presenting theatre to teens, it doesn't hurt to get them onside by positioning teachers as the enemy.

Cameron is not a rapper by trade, but does a respectable job of impersonating one. He is excellent, however, at contorting his wiry frame to depict "tweaking," the compulsive twitching and picking at the skin that goes along with meth addiction. (Reminding me a bit of David Dawson's performance in Nicholas Nickleby; is it possible Smike was a meth-head?) Cameron is also quick to develop a rapport with his teenage audience, even challenging in character a kid or two who tried to squirm out of engaging with the piece through ironic laughter. The audience seemed comfortable relating to him. After the show I saw, one girl asked: How do you know if your pot is laced with meth? (The answer: You don't.) While Cranked never condescends, one of the websites Cameron referred the teens to during the Q&A session - an American site called staycrystalclear.com - was less useful, equating as it does drinking and smoking marijuana with using harder drugs. If you get as hysterical about beer and pot as you do about heroin and crystal meth, kids will write it all off as crying wolf.

The rise of meth use among teens across Canada is no joke, however.

Cranked doesn't shy away from the most disturbing elements. When Stan talks about picking at and eating his own scabs because of the chemical residue in them, the image burnt itself into my mind. If this was the case for others in the audience as well, then the play has done its job.

Cranked is at Toronto's Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People until Saturday, then touring through New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia. (information: http://www.greenthumb.bc.ca).

Heidi Strauss Goes It Alone At Harbourfront

Source: www.thestar.com - Susan Walker,
Dance Writer

(April 24, 2008) Heidi Strauss is a purebred independent dancer. It's true she once spent a year with a small company, but it wasn't for her. She's more likely to start a dance troupe than join one.

In fact, that is exactly what she did when at the age of 16, she and dancer Sunny Horvath started earthdancers, a Sudbury operation dedicated to raising money for environmental activism. That was 1989 and the company still exists.

"I guess I'm more interested in self-directing," says Strauss, whose name comes from her German father. Heidi is short for Adelheid, the name she's given to her website and to the show she opens tonight at Harbourfront's Enwave Theatre.

Since graduating from the School of Toronto Dance Theatre in 1994, she has forged a career performing with others while creating her own work developing her own artistic vision. In 1999 she joined forces with Darryl Tracy to form Four Chambers Dance Project, a platform for collaborations with other dancers.

Strauss has made the rounds here and in Europe, either as a pick-up dancer or having forged artistic connections for herself. She has worked with Michael Downing, Kaeja d'Dance, Sylvain Emard, Marie-Josée Chartier, Sarah Chase, Denise Fujiwara, Peter Chin and Julia Sasso. She has also choreographed for the Canadian Opera Company's La Nozze di Figaro.

A partnership with photographer and video artist Jeremy Mimnagh began in 2004 when they worked on a project for the Ryerson dance department's student showcase. That led to marriage and more collaborations. Mimnagh has been key to the two works the slender Strauss will perform this week, Das Martyrium and ohne.

Strauss's solo work began in 1998, soon after she met lighting designer and theatrical director Jan Komarek, whose artistry she'd admired, particularly his lighting.

"It wasn't like dance lighting," she says. They worked together on Das Martyrium, a hauntingly beautiful solo where the lighting is like a partner. The movement is inspired by the lives of Joan of Arc and an autistic schoolmate that Strauss has carried in her memory.

Tonight's version of the piece is the culmination of its development from its premiere in the Czech Republic, where Komarek now lives. Komarek and Mimnaugh – the visual extensions of Strauss's choreographic mind – also worked with her on ohne. The word means "without" and Strauss explores a myriad meanings, including fortuitously dashed expectations and "the idea of not being in control or losing what you think gives you control."

Just the facts
What: Adelheid Solos

Imperial Ice Stars Soar In Show Based On Tchaikovsky's Classic Ballet

Source: www.thestar.com - Susan Walker,
Dance Writer

(April 24, 2008) MONTREAL–Tchaikovsky would have approved.

Swan Like on Ice is not like any version of the ballet we've ever seen. Neither is it like any other ice show.

A story reinterpreted for swans that really glide and actually fly, and for dancers who make a pas de deux look as much a technical tour de force as anything in ballet slippers, the show has more thrills than a high-wire trapeze act (and has a bit of that, too).

This Swan Lake on blades (and briefly on sandpapered pointe shoes) opens Wednesday on a purpose-built slab of ice on the Sony Centre stage. It is to Ice Capades what Cirque du Soleil is to the Ringling Bros.

The Imperial Ice Stars comprise some of the world's best figure skaters – all Russian, all former champions. They do things on skates, including stilt-dancing, that make televised competitions look like warm-up exercises.

A follow-up to their Sleeping Beauty, this production is the creation of Moscow-based Tony Mercer, a man from Manchester with a deep baritone that once earned him good parts in musicals.

The Imperial skaters have that étoile quality so sought after by ballet principals. Olga Sharutenko, winner of numerous medals of all hues for her ice dancing, is an Odette with the ability to fly, soaring on a wire over her Prince Siegfried, Vadim Yarkov. At a high point in the show, the 35-year-old Yarkov, a pair skater and winner of 16 gold medals before he retired from the USSR national team, circles effortlessly on ice bearing three swan women in all their feathery finery.

As the evil character often does, Anton Klykov's cigarette-puffing Rothbart nearly expropriates the action from the swans and the Russian royalty with a heart-pounding display of bravura moves. A slinky Odile in scarlet and fishnet, Olena Pyatash is an artful seductress who weaves her web around a willing Siegfried.

Over a post-show dinner following the standing ovation at Place des Arts, Mercer expanded on his notion that the traditional Swan Lake ballet is full of "storyboard moments that follow no logical pattern." He sourced his production with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's notes for his early composition of the music and a little play he prepared for his family, based on the legend of the swan princess. Had Tchaikovsky written the libretto for the ballet show that Marius Petipa eventually staged in 1895, two years after the composer's death, it might have been something like Mercer's.

This production not only has a happy ending, but it separates the roles of Odette and Odile, usually performed by the same ballerina.

In the 19th-century Maryinsky Swan Lake, Prince Siegfried is confused into thinking that Odile is Odette in a different dress. Tchaikovsky had originally written two separate roles.

"I used to go and watch the ballet," says the director. "I always felt like screaming when Siegfried mistakes Odile for Odette. I'm seven metres away from the stage, but I can see it's the same girl. It's not as if he's been drinking. Why do it that way?"

Having reinterpreted Cinderella, Carmen and Sleeping Beauty in previous ice shows with enough reality to allow an audience to identify with the characters, Mercer found the nerve to do his own radically different Swan Lake after seeing Matthew Bourne's gay-themed version. (A year ago the two creators met while winning awards from the U.K. Critics' Circle. Swan Lake was the first ice show to win this theatrical prize.)

His scenario was simple: "Act I: the males dominate. Act II: females decide everything." As Mercer sees it, nothing could be truer to life. His Siegfried, not so pale and foolishly enchanted as the one in white tights, is given responsibility for his actions. At the ball arranged by his matchmaking mother, he rebuffs Odile, Rothbart's daughter. When he sees her later, tarted up for his 21st birthday party, he allows her to sweep him off his feet. This Siegfried knowingly betrays Odette, condemning her to remain a swan under Rothbart's curse.

The twist in Act II is that Odile comes upon the broken-hearted Odette and breaks her engagement with Siegfried so that Odette can marry him. Instead of dying, Odette is released from the curse and is returned to her human self.

The score justifies the end, says Mercer. "If I listen to that music I don't hear a sad ending. I hear a celebration of love in there. So that's what we've done."

His lead dancers find the work entirely fulfilling. "It's not completely different to what I've done in the past," says Sharutenko. "But here we are much more responsible to deliver the character so that people can understand everything that's happening onstage."

While improvising the skating sequences, she says, the choreographers would suggest a move that seemed impossible. Yet the skaters would make it work, doing stunts that usually occupy a hockey-sized rink on a stage one-quarter the size.

Evgeny Platov, the only man ever to win two Olympic gold medals in ice dance (in '94 and '98), was the one to translate Mercer's ideas into ice choreography.

The rules of competition have put a noose around creativity, Platov believes, but with shows like this one, figure skaters can finally express their full talent.

Just the facts:

WHAT: Swan Lake on Ice

Black Grace Draw On Traditional Polynesian Dance Movements

Source:  www.thestar.com - Susan Walker,
Dance Writer

(April 30, 2008) Black Grace – a New Zealand slang term for courage and bravura – began 13 years ago as an all-male troupe with a South Pacific accent, contemporary dancers imbued with the spirit and the moves of Polynesian cultures. Bare-chested and barefoot, they took New York City by storm in 2006.

Something else happened in the company that year. It's not clear exactly what internal struggles took place, but when the smoke cleared, all but one member had resigned or been sacked, and Black Grace, the best known of New Zealand's contemporary dance troupes, re-emerged with a dance for 12 women.

Since then, founding artistic director and choreographer Neil Ieremia has taken his troupe through another cycle of creation.

Black Grace is not just men in sarongs: it's also women in swirling chiffon skirts.

The Auckland-based company that Ieremia brings to Harbourfront Centre tonight, directly from the U.S. leg of its current tour, collectively represents the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Samoa, the Philippines and the original peoples of the South Pacific.

At the Premiere Dance Theatre until Saturday, the troupe will perform seven short works or excerpts from its repertoire, including Human Language, a piece that plays on physical communication (or the lack thereof) between men and women, and Fa'a Ulutao, meaning spearhead, from a dance called Surface, which trades in the symbolism of the Samoan tattoo.

Back in 1995, Ieremia set Black Grace in motion with this artistic announcement: "With a diverse selection of music that moves seamlessly from the hard-core hip-hop style of Public Enemy through to the classical music of J.S. Bach, Black Grace challenges the typical `Kiwi male' stereotype from a uniquely Polynesian perspective."

A New Zealand dancer of Samoan extraction, Ieremia wanted to make one thing clear: he was not out to preserve the traditional dances of the Pacific. However, he would find a way to express himself by drawing on centuries-old ceremonial movement, such as the Samoan slap dance, transformed in his imagination into a very contemporary work called Minoi. It is performed by a group of strapping males who clap and chant rhythmically and vigorously pound their bare soles on the floor.

But Black Grace is not just drumming and stomping; it's also very contemporary movement set to music such as Afro-Celt Sound System, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto or "The White Cliffs of Dover."

"I didn't want to be put in a box," Ieremia told a New Zealand TV reporter on the occasion of the company's rebirth. "I didn't want to be known only as that guy who choreographs on brown men from the South Pacific." He prefers that his choreography be his calling card.

Ieremia commissioned 12 female dancers to perform his luscious Amata, a full-length work titled with the Samoan word for "begin." The women took to Ieremia's choreography as well as the men had, but with a little less force and a lot more reflection, he recalled. The theme of this choral/dance piece is "a time to cry; a time to laugh; a time to grieve; a time to dance." Tonight they'll perform an excerpt from it, War Brides.

"I don't limit myself," the choreographer said on the telephone from Washington. "I've always enjoyed working with males and I still do, but if I need to listen to a different voice, I find one."

Ieremia didn't start with formal dance training; he started as a teen at the local church and created his first dance when he was 13. "I was making it up as I went. Dance isn't taught specifically; it's part of your upbringing and your cultural tradition."

People learned to dance through watching their family members at weddings, funerals and other ceremonies, he said.

"But it isn't really regarded as an acceptable career," the choreographer said. He means for a man.

::SPORTS NEWS::

Canada's Top University Athletes Announced

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(April 29, 2008) CALGARY–Rob Hennigar admits his road to a professional hockey has been unconventional.

An outstanding four-year career at the University of New Brunswick garnered him a contract with the New York Islanders earlier this month before he won the BLG Award as Canada's top male university athlete Monday.

Volleyball player
Laetitia Tchoualack, who left a pro career in France to become a student-athlete at the University of Montreal, was named the country's top female university athlete.

Both received trophies and a $10,000 (U.S.) scholarship to attend graduate school at a Canadian university.

Hennigar, a 25-year-old from Jordan, Ont., finished first in Canadian Interuniversity Sports scoring with 15 goals and 43 assists in 27 games and he was also named the CIS men's hockey player of the year.

He led the Varsity Reds to the CIS championship final for a second straight year, but UNB was unable to defend its Canadian title in a 3-2 loss to Alberta.

The Islanders signed Hennigar to a two-year contract on April 9.

"I kind of took the back door coming in as a 25-year-old free agent," Hennigar said. "Not too many guys get a contract like that."

Hennigar played for the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires before joining the Varsity Reds. He said his four seasons at UNB helped prepare him for a pro career.

"As a person and as a player, you grow up going to university and learn a lot of things you didn't know about yourself," Hennigar said. "I learned through the older guys there, we'd had a lot of guys who had come back from pro, and they showed me the ropes and what it was like.

"I don't know if I was ready to go (pro) right out of Windsor, but obviously after you've matured for four years you're a better hockey player and I'm looking forward to the challenge."

The fourth-year kinesiology student was chosen ahead of three nominees: Bishop's football player Jamall Lee of Port Coquitlam, B.C.; Carleton basketball player Aaron Doornekamp of Odessa, Ont.; Winnipeg volleyball player Ben Schellenberg of Winnipeg.

Tchoualack, from Paris, France, was named CIS women's volleyball player of the year after leading the Montreal Carabins to a silver medal at the national championship.

Montreal lost a five-set final to British Columbia despite Tchoualack's match-high 29 kills.

The 26-year-old, who is a third-year communications student, played professionally in France before coming to Canada in 2005 and has been named all-Canadian three straight seasons since then.

"When you're a professional, you have to justify your salary and the human relationships go away because you have to prove all the time you are the best," Tchoualack said. "At the University of Montreal, there is a friendship, a human relationship and everybody is trying to help you, listen to you and understand you."

The other nominees for the BLG female award were all basketball players: Memorial's Katherine Quackenbush of Halifax; McMaster's Lindsay DeGroot of Thedford, Ont.; Simon Fraser's Lani Gibbons of Salmon Arm, B.C.

The winners of the BLG Awards, established in 1993, are chosen based on athletic accomplishments, sportsmanship, leadership and academic excellence. They're sponsored by the national law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.

Both Tchoualack and Hennigar are the first BLG winners from their respective universities and Hennigar is the first male winner out of the Atlantic University Sport conference.

Hennigar was a major contributor to New Brunswick's 26-win season. His 58 points in the regular season were the highest in university men's hockey since 2000, when current Tampa Bay Lightning winger Mathieu Darche collected 62 for McGill

The five-foot-11, 200-pound Hennigar had 10 points in five AUS playoff victories and had another four points in three games at the University Cup.

"Rob has made a positive, significant difference in the success of our hockey program," UNB coach Gardiner MacDougall said. "This season he has culminated his excellent four-year career by having his best campaign and leading our team to our best conference schedule ever.

"His competitive personality and strong leadership skills helped the V-Reds win a national championship a year ago and Team Canada win a gold medal at the Winter Universiade."

Tchoualack, a five-foot-11 hitter, led Canada with an average of 4.13 kills per set during conference play and stepped that up to 5.5 at the national championship.

"Simply put, Laetitia is the best player I've had the privilege to coach in my career," Montreal head coach Olivier Trudel said. ``Once she gets going, she is almost unstoppable. The other teams have no other choice but to treat her with respect and prepare a game plan to try to stop her.

"She has had a major impact from the first day she joined our program and has taken our team to another level."

Last year's winners were Calgary track star Jessica Zelinka and Trinity Western volleyball player Josh Howatson.

The 2008 awards ceremony will be broadcast on May 18 (TSN, 11 a.m. ET ).

Ford Wants To Stick Around

Source:  www.thestar.com - Doug Smith,
Sports Reporter

(April 29, 2008)  ORLANDO, Fla.– T.J. Ford watched the Raptor season end from a seat on the bench, the player once thought to be an integral part of the franchise's long-term future reduced to being a spectator.

It may have been a moment of foreboding, or it may have been nothing more than a decision by coach Sam Mitchell to let Jose Calderon try to steal a victory. It apparently did nothing to make Ford think his future is anywhere but in a Raptor uniform.

"I want to be back," said Ford, who played 24 minutes of Toronto's season-ending 102-92 loss to the Magic here last night. "I never said anything about wanting to leave."

But Ford's future has to be somewhat cloudy. Calderon is a restricted free agent this summer but general manager Bryan Colangelo is on the record as saying he'll do whatever it takes to bring the Spaniard back.

It's conceivable that Calderon could return to be a backup but that seems far-fetched and Mitchell's decision to use him instead of Ford to finish every significant game of the last month cannot be ignored.

"It's really out of our control," said Ford, who had 14 points and six assists last night. "That's up to Bryan Colangelo to make those decisions, what guys will be back and what guys he wants to change.

"As players, we just do the things we're supposed to do this summer and whatever happens be ready for next year."

Ford's season, and perhaps his Toronto future, went off the rails when he was injured in a December game in Atlanta.

He missed 24 games with a neck and back injury after that fall, came back to struggle in a backup role and got his starting job back only when Calderon went to Mitchell and suggested the shift.

Still, for all he went through, Ford said the season ended with a large measure of personal satisfaction.

"It was a tough stretch, me being in the media mostly on a negative thing but I think I showed my professionalism," he said. "I didn't let it upset me and affect my play. I think I just fought through it and I'm pretty happy with the way I ended up performing this season."

Ford, Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani, all 25 or under and under contract for at least the next two seasons, were widely held to be the anchors of the franchise moving forward. But with Ford in the situation he is in, and Bargnani suffering through a season of regression, the core may not be what it was thought to be.

"You've got to get better," said coach Mitchell.

"We won 41 games and we're not overly thrilled about that and having to start the playoffs on the road."

SPORTS TIDBITS

We Remember Will Robinson

Source: www.eurweb.com

(April 30, 2008) *Will Robinson, the first black basketball coach at a Division I school and a Detroit Pistons scout who discovered Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, died Monday at a Detroit hospital. He was 96.   Robinson had been ailing for 15 months and living in a nursing home for more than a year, according to Pistons spokesman Matt Dobek.   In the 1970s, Robinson broke the racial barrier when he became coach of Illinois State. The Pistons hired him as a scout in 1976, and the additions of Dumars and Rodman were keys to Detroit's 1989 and 1990 NBA championships. Those teams were coached by Chuck Daly, only because Robinson had declined former general manager Jack McCloskey's initial offer to lead the team.   "Will Robinson was truly a legend and will be missed dearly," Dumars told the Associated Press. "He was a huge inspiration for me and so many others. He was simply the best."   A viewing is scheduled in Detroit on Friday. After the funeral Saturday, a celebration of Robinson's life will be held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

::TECHNOLOGY NEWS::

Mario Kart Wii Sticks To Formula Of Big Fun

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Bret Dawson,
Special To The Star

Mario Kart Wii
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
Platform: Wii
Rating: Everyone
Price: $49.99
(Includes plastic steering wheel)

(April 26, 2008) Last week in this space you read about Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, a stern-faced game about driving real cars on real roads and real racetracks in the most realistic fashion possible. You read that it picks joylessness over fun at every opportunity, and you also read that it is an excellent source of shiny images of expensive cars. Many people are into that sort of thing, and that is OK. It is a bit like being into pigeons or having a bottlecap collection. It may be joyless, but there's no harm in it.

Still. If punishingly accurate physics and the frustrating tedium of understeer and oversteer are not your particular cup of water, you will find a lot to like in the new
Mario Kart. This is not a surprise. The game offers a few new features and a few surprises, but mostly it sticks to the formula.

The idea is that when he is not on a big adventure rescuing a kidnapped princess, Mario likes to drive race cars. The Mushroom Kingdom is blessed with countless motor speedways, which are blessed with magical boxes designed to make race car driving both more pleasurable and more dangerous. A dozen cars line up at the starting line, and everyone guns the throttle, and any car that hits one of the magical boxes wins a prize. Sometimes the prize is one (or several) bursts of super turbo speed. Sometimes it is a set of turtle shells, which can be fired like missiles at other cars. Sometimes it is a banana peel, which can be dropped on the track, where it will pose a spin-out hazard to any other car that hits it.

There are so many magic boxes and so many power-up treats that the actual play experience is only about 60% driving. The rest is a combination of weapons tactics and cussing at the person who just fired the lightning bomb. It is a very quick, very silly experience, rendered in bright primary colours. It is a bit like a demolition derby where nobody gets hurt and neither do the cars.

Again, this much is standard in Mario Kart games. The big new thing this time out is online play, and the happy news is that it works beautifully. The game will randomly find opponents from around the world (or a smaller region if that is your thing), or you can race against your friends, provided you have entered their codes into your Wii. The key thing is that it is easy to find opponents, and the other key thing is that once you are in a race, the whole thing plays smoothly and crisply and does not get chuggy or irritating, as some online games do.

Some changes are minor (each race can accommodate 12 cars instead of the original eight) and some are merely cosmetic (you can attach your "Mii" character to an online race). The best new news, though, is a subtle improvement in the play itself: the little burst of speed you get when you skid around a corner has been refined to reward skilled steering and to prevent something called "snaking." Snaking was a zigzaggy method for chaining speed boosts together. It was deeply irritating, unless you were good at it, in which case it was fair play and deeply awesome. The new system is an improvement. It may not strike you as an impressive improvement, given that the series is more than a decade old and most of the fundamentals were in the very first instalment original. But it is improvement. That counts.

All good things ... I've tried, when writing these reviews over the past 10 years, not to say "I." Much of that time I've cheated, using the royal "we" instead and hoping you would feel suitably intimidated. Sorry about that. Anyway. This will be my last game review in this space. I am an old fart now and my thumbs are getting sore. Thanks for reading. It's been fun.

Violence And Video Games

Source: www.thestar.com -
Lawrence Kutner

The following is excerpted from Grand Theft Childhood, by Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, co-directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media. They weigh in on a longstanding debate: the relationship between video games and teen violence. The book, published this month, is timely: Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest instalment of the mega-selling and much-criticized series, goes on sale at midnight.

(April 28, 2008) Thirteen-year-old Darren and a half dozen of his video game-playing friends are sitting around a table at the Boys and Girls Club in a working-class section of Boston. We're talking about the games, especially the violent ones. They've all played them.

Darren had a tough time in school earlier this week. On Monday, a teacher said something that embarrassed him in front of his classmates. When he went home that afternoon, he plugged in his video game console, loaded Grand Theft Auto III, blew up a few cars and shot a half-dozen people, including a young blond woman. When asked, Darren admits that the woman he killed in the game looked a lot like his teacher.

If you listen to the politicians and the pundits, the relationship is blindingly clear: playing violent video games leads children to engage in real-world violence or, at the very least, to become more aggressive.

In August 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a resolution on violence in video games and interactive media, stating that "perpetrators go unpunished in 73 per cent of all violent scenes, and therefore teach that violence is an effective means of resolving conflict."

The attorney for Lee Malvo, the young "DC Sniper," claimed that the teen had taught himself to kill by playing Halo on his Xbox game console. "He's trained and desensitized with video games ... to shoot human forms over and over."

Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were avid computer gamers. According to psychologists Craig Anderson and Karen Dill, "One possible contributing factor (to the incident) is violent video games. Harris and Klebold enjoyed playing the bloody shoot-'em-up video game Doom, a game licensed by the U.S. Army to train soldiers to effectively kill."

We hear that youth violence, as reflected in violent crime and school shootings, is a growing problem, and that young game players are socially isolated and unable to form interpersonal relationships.

The growth in violent video game sales is linked to the growth in youth violence – especially school violence – throughout the country.

School shooters fit a profile that includes a fascination with violent media, especially violent video games.

A British study by Save the Children was described in the press as finding that "children are struggling to make friends at school because they spend too long playing computer games." A spokesperson for that organization added, "Children have always played alone, for example with dolls or train sets, but these activities required a certain level of imagination – they stimulated their brains. That is not the case with modern computer games, which do children's thinking for them and put them in their own little world."

All of these statements are wrong. In fact, much of the information in the popular press about the effects of violent video games is wrong.

The real puzzle is that anyone looking at the research evidence in this field could draw any conclusions about the pattern, let alone argue with such confidence and even passion that it demonstrates the harm of violence on television, in film and in video games. The allegation that "perpetrators go unpunished in 73 per cent of all violent scenes" is based on research from the mid-1990s that looked at selected television programs, not video games.

The video game Halo involves shooting an unrealistic gun at a giant alien bug. It is not an effective way to train as a real sniper. In court, Lee Malvo admitted that he trained by shooting a real gun at paper plates that represented human heads. Also, Malvo had a long history of anti-social and criminal behaviour, including torturing small animals – one of the best predictors of future violent criminal behaviour.

It's unlikely that Harris and Klebold's interest in violent video games or other violent media played any significant role in their actions. An FBI investigation concluded that Klebold was significantly depressed and suicidal, and Harris was a sociopath.

Video game popularity and real-world youth violence have been moving in opposite directions. Violent juvenile crime in the United States reached a peak in 1993 and has been declining ever since. School violence has also gone down. The U.S. Secret Service intensely studied each of the 37 non-gang and non-drug-related school shootings and stabbings that were considered "targeted attacks" that took place nationally from 1974 through 2000.

The Secret Service found that there was no accurate profile. Only one in eight school shooters showed any interest in violent video games; only one in four liked violent movies.

On the other hand, reports of bullying are up. Our research found that certain patterns of video game play were much more likely to be associated with these types of behavioural problems than with major violent crime such as school shootings.

For many children and adolescents, playing video games is an intensely social activity, not an isolating one.

Many games involve multi-person play, with the players either in the same room or connected electronically. They often require that players communicate so that they can co-ordinate their efforts. Our research found that playing violent video games was associated with playing with friends.

For younger children especially, games are a topic of conversation that allows them to build relationships with peers.

Although it came from a reputable organization, the widely cited British study claiming that increased use of electronic media has led to social isolation among children based its findings on the personal opinions of an unspecified group of primary school teachers who were asked to compare today's children (ages 5 to 11) to what they remembered about children who were in their classrooms when they started teaching, not on scientific observations of children conducted over time.

As Darren tells his story about feeling angry, then playing the violent video game in which he blew up cars and shot several people, including one who looked a lot like his teacher, the other kids sitting around the table nod their heads. It's clear that at one time or another, they have each done something similar.

"I guess I got my anger out," Darren says. "Then I sat down and did my homework."

From Grand Theft Childhood by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson. Copyright 2008 by Lawrence Kutner, PhD, and Cheryl K. Olson, Sc.D.f. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

::OTHER NEWS::

Yonge St. is Flaming Again, At Least For A Few Days

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Brent Ledger

(April 26, 2008) Next Saturday, journalists Jane Farrow and Gerald Hannon will lead a tour of historic gay Yonge St. It may not be a moment too soon.

Before Church St. "arrived" in the late 1980s, Yonge St. was the centre of gay Toronto and home to bars like the Quest, the St. Charles and the Parkside.

Those landmarks will live again, however briefly, during the "Yonge St. is Flaming" tour next weekend, one of 50-odd looks at Toronto's history scheduled to take place during an annual ode to urbanist Jane Jacobs. (See janeswalk.net for details).

But what about the future?

With massive condo towers announced for both Yonge and Bloor and Yonge and Gerrard, and Ryerson planning to put a library (a library!) on the pivotal site of Sam The Record Man, I wonder how much longer my favourite street has got.

It's not like I object to towers in general or the siting of these towers in particular. Allowing Ryerson, an institution with an alarming record for ugliness, to expand onto Yonge St. is depressing, but the condos will replace nothing more exciting than a parking lot and some forgettable small buildings, so no great loss there.

What worries me more is the signal these developments send, the message that the street is – oh hideous phrase – "open for business." Meaning available for demolition.

We've already lost University Ave. to oversized institutions, Bloor St. to homogenized high-end shopping, and Bay St. to condos (was there ever a deader strip of street?).

Can Yonge St. be far behind?

People who don't go downtown much probably think of Yonge St. as just the place where pervs seek porn and people get shot.

For me, it's the place where the city is most alive and where I grew up.

I spent Saturday afternoons in adolescence walking up and down the strip with a friend, gawking at records and munching on Harvey's hamburgers.

I got my second gay proposition there – in the old A&A Records, looking at Dvorak, if you must know – and I found my first gay bar there – the old Parkside Tavern, at Yonge and Breadalbane, now a Sobey's.

But more than any personal associations, I love the rough-and-tumble of the street, its mix of muddle and confused coherence. Different styles, eras and functions all mingle here, giving the place a complex, layered feel.

A Starbucks huddles in an old fraternal lodge (Odd Fellows Hall, at Yonge and College) and the ghost of a gay bar (the St. Charles) lurks beneath a 19th-century fire hall tower.

Farther north, a Thai restaurant and a sexy clothing outlet find shelter in a lovely Victorian commercial block designed by Old City Hall architect E.J. Lennox.

Anchored by Morningstar at the north and Monster Records at the south, the 10-unit block at 664-682 Yonge shows what the street does best. Detailed enough to interest the eye (check out those dapper dormers) but not so massive as to overwhelm the street, it's a comforting presence that's open to all comers, respectable or not. This – and not the bureaucratically imposed developments to the south – is the real Yonge St.

Unlike the windswept plain of Yonge-Dundas Square or the tank- like facade of neighbouring Toronto Life Square, old Yonge St. was built for people, not advertising.

This city is in love with the glitzy and the grandiose and leaps at the chance to erect anything that smells of money. But it's in places like seedy old Yonge St. that you'll find Toronto's soul. And in an era of reckless development, we need it more than ever.

Brent Ledger appears every second Saturday. You can reach him at living@thestar.ca.

OneXOne Signs Affleck

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Gayle Macdonald

(April 28, 2008) The ambitious children's charity
OneXOne is heading west next month, with the launch of its first gala fundraiser in Calgary, hosted by the Oscar-winning activist actor Ben Affleck.

His childhood buddy,
Matt Damon, will once again act as evening ambassador to this year's OneXOne event in Toronto, now in its fourth year. It has raised roughly $7-million for impoverished children around the globe.

Reached by phone, the 35-year-old Affleck said he signed up for the Calgary gig because he was impressed with the grassroots nature of the charity. "They're a great organization that is not pinned down by huge overhead," said Affleck. "When OneXOne sees something they feel deserves their merit, they move quickly. You can tell a lot about an organization by the people they've cultivated to come back and work with them over and over again," added the actor, who joined Damon on stage in Toronto last year before the duo departed on a trip to Africa with DATA, Bono's Washington-based African advocacy foundation.

"I was struck by the energy and drive of this group. I don't know if it's because they have a lean group at the top - or maybe it's just the Canadian ethos, the way Canadian operate."

"I'm used to the American bickering. From what I've observed, Canadians just seem to get along with each other."

Affleck will host the OneXOne Calgary gala on June 14 at Commonwealth Hall. It's his second visit to the city, a place he flew into briefly a few years ago when his younger brother Casey was filming The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with Brad Pitt.

"When they asked if I'd do Calgary," Affleck said, "I said, 'Sure. As long as Matt is not dragging me down.' In Toronto, I felt like my material was really working, but this guy I was telling jokes with was getting in the way."

OneXOne Calgary will also feature Grammy winner George Benson, the African Children's Choir, and the Canadian Tenors.

The charity's Sept. 8 gala fundraiser in Toronto - always a coveted ticket during the Toronto International Film Festival - is Damon's third time hosting OneXOne, founded by Diesel Canada president Joelle [Joey] Adler. The star-studded bash has boasted celebrities such as Kate Hudson, Brad Pitt, Bono, Wyclef Jean, and Penelope Cruz.

In the fall, OneXOne will add a third benefit to its 2008 schedule, with a gala in San Francisco on Oct. 23.

The trip to Africa left an indelible impression on Affleck, who went back last December, and is heading there again for three weeks in May. Establishing clean water wells in impoverished villages has become Damon's main obsession. For Affleck, who is a life-long Democrat and is supporting Barack Obama, it's bringing international attention to war-ravaged Congo.

"Look, I'm not about to pretend I'm some expert, but I'm going back to try to educate myself so I can speak as knowledgeably and responsibly as possible," says Affleck, who won an Academy Award for best original screenplay for 1997's Good Will Hunting which he co-wrote with Damon.

"If you step up as an advocate, especially as a celebrity, the onus is on you to know what you're talking about, and not just present yourself as some kind of mouthpiece for a cause. It's really important to talk about these issues from a place of humility.

"My first trip to Africa coincided with a period in my life where I'd done a lot of charitable work, but it was disparate and not very focused. This feels really right to me," says Affleck. "More than 5 million people died in the Congo in the late nineties - and still thousands of people are dying every month - and you rarely hear about it."

Affleck, who married actress Jennifer Garner in 2005 and has a two-year-old daughter, Violet, was born in Berkeley, Ca. and moved to Cambridge, Mass. as a young kid. He met Damon - who lived a few blocks away - when he was 10.

After some lean times while roomies in Los Angeles, the pair's luck turned after the Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Affleck started landing major roles in films such as Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor. But then he hit a rough patch around 2003 with box office flops such as Gigli and Jersey Girl, which he co-starred in with then fiancée Jennifer Lopez.

Last year marked a professional turnaround for Affleck with his directorial debut of the critically acclaimed Gone, Baby, Gone, which starred his Oscar-nominated brother, Casey.

Now back on firm professional ground, directing scripts are coming his way, but he's taking his time. "It's kind of like [trying to write] that second novel. I'm at a point where I'm old enough to be judicious, and I think that's a healthy thing."

Affleck says he and his wife never work at the same time so one parent is always home with Violet. He just finished State of Play (with Canadian Rachel McAdams), and now his wife is filming This Side of the Truth, directed by Ricky Gervais.

Most recently, Damon and Affleck became Internet sensations after performing on music videos concocted by the powerhouse comedy couple, Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel.

In early February, Silverman kicked it off with the hilarious I'm F*cking Matt Damon, which aired (as a surprise) while she was a guest on his late night talk show. It's gone on to racket up over 11-million hits on YouTube.

After the Oscars this year, Kimmel got his revenge, with I'm F*ucking Ben Affleck, which includes cameos of Pitt (as a FedEx delivery guy), Harrison Ford (who sports a Honk If You're F*cking Ben Affleck sticker) and music by Josh Groban, Cameron Diaz, Robin Williams, and Huey Lewis.

"They called me up and said, we're doing this, are you in?" recalls Affleck. "And I thought that's exactly what I want to do," he chuckles. "I just wanted it to be better than Matt and Sarah's."

As for his enduring friendship with Damon, Affleck figures it's all about longevity. "At a certain point, it just runs so long you have momentum," he laughs. "What's he going to do now? Break up with me?"

Ontario Opens Its Cultural Wallet

Source:  www.thestar.com - Martin Knelman,
Entertainment Columnist

(April 30, 2008) Last night in Kingston, Ont., Culture Minister Aileen Carroll delivered some great news for artists and culture industry workers across the province.

Premier Dalton McGuinty's government is providing extra funding for the Ontario Arts Council over the next four years: $5 million a year, for a total of
$20 million.

That means that for its 2009-2010 operations, the provincial arts council will have almost $60 million to distribute to hundreds of individual artists and cultural organizations – the most money it has ever been allocated.

It's a signal that Queen's Park is interested in all parts of the creative community, not just the flashy players such as the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Luminato, which got a $75 million bonanza earlier this month.

The extra OAC funding announced last night is part of $63 million set aside for culture over four years in Finance Minister Dwight Duncan's March budget.

"The provincial budget identified Ontario's creative industry as one of the three key sectors expected to grow fastest," Carroll noted.

Indeed, in proportion to the general population, Ontario has the third largest group of employees in the creative field in North America, after California and New York.

"Since taking office in 2003, our government has increased the OAC budget by 140 per cent," Carroll crowed in a phone interview.

The statistics verify Carroll's claim.

In the late 1980s, the OAC had a budget of close to $30 million. Under Bob Rae's NDP government of the early 1990s, that climbed to more than $42 million.

But the election of the Mike Harris Conservatives in 1995 resulted in devastating cuts. Over the next seven years, the OAC budget was reduced to less than $25 million, which means that, adjusted for inflation, the budget was almost cut in half.

In McGuinty's first term as premier, OAC funding jumped to just under $40 million. For 2007-2008, it went up to $45,487,400.

As a result of yesterday's announcement, the OAC budget will reach $54,937,000 for 2008-2009 before levelling off at $59,937,400 for the three following years.

OTHER TIDBITS

Canadian Wins $50,000 Grange Photo Prize

Excerpt from www.thestar.com - Peter Goddard,
Visual Arts Columnist

(April 25, 2008) Sarah Anne Johnson is the inaugural winner of the $50,000 Grange Prize for Contemporary Photography, it was announced last night by the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Known for realist-looking images where documentary and fantasy merge, the 31-year-old Winnipeg photographer/teacher plans to use the award to buy a cabin in the woods near Lake Winnipeg. Named after The Grange, the AGO's historic home, and underwritten by Aeroplan, the Grange Prize is the country's largest award for photography.  Johnson received 53 per cent of 2,700 votes cast worldwide on the Grange Prize's website, thegrangeprize.com, where her photographs were shown alongside work by Miao Xiaochun, Huang Yan, Liu Zheng and Raymonde April, a Montrealer who was the only other Canadian finalist. Mexico will be the spotlighted non-Canadian country next year. Johnson's photo series, "Tree Planting," shows groups of young people planting trees in the British Columbia wilds alongside other images of humanlike statues seemingly participating in this Canadian rite of passage. A similar mixture of documentary naturalism and eerie fantasy can be found in her suite of Galapagos Island pictures. "In photography, the purists believe you're showing a slice of life that exists through the photograph itself," she says.  "The nonpurists use photography to explain an idea they have in their heads. Being a typical Canadian, I had to do it all." Her planned AGO exhibition next spring may include "a new body of work I'm doing that's terrifying," she says. "It's about my grandmother, Vel Orlikow, my mother and myself."  In the 1950s, Orlikow was unknowingly given LSD in a botched experiment conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency. Years later, Orlikow sued the CIA and won.

::FITNESS NEWS::

Sexier Abs This Summer: 3 Hot Exercises!

By Calzadilla, BA, CPT, ACE, RTS1 Raphael
eDiets Chief Fitness Pro


Get ready to plop down on your living room floor for a belly-busting ab workout.

It won't last longer than 12 minutes because endless amounts of abdominal exercises are simply not necessary. However, it will be a tough 12 minutes.

Before we get to the actual workout, let's get something straight. You will not achieve great looking abs unless you reduce body fat and adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Nutrition -- This is one of the most important components to achieving a flat stomach. You'll need to be in a slight caloric deficit (less than maintenance) and you'll need to control blood sugar levels. This is the most efficient and healthiest way to lose body fat. eDiets has more than 20 meal plans to choose from, so finding the most enjoyable program won't be hard. In fact, we'll help you to choose the best plan for your lifestyle.

2. Cardiovascular Exercise -- Perform three to four days per week of cardiovascular exercise for approximately 25-30 minutes. Find an activity that's fun such as aerobic video tapes, belly dancing classes, walking with a friend, etc.

3. Weight Training -- Just two to three workout sessions lasting no more than 30-40 minutes will do the trick. And once you start losing fat, you'll see some lean and defined muscles.

4. Consistency -- You'll need to be consistent most of the time. I'm not suggesting perfection and a life of constant denial, but let's face it, if you want to make changes you have to make some sacrifices.

Now, plop on that floor and let's work your abs. Once your body fat begins to reduce, you'll start to notice a tight set of abdominals forming from the result of this program.

THE WORKOUT

The first thing I want you to do is warm-up for 5 minutes by walking, dancing or playing with your kids. Then I want you to psychologically prepare yourself for a non-stop ab workout that will have you huffing and puffing.

The training method we'll be using is referred to as "timed sets." You are to perform each exercise below for as many repetitions as possible. Once you cannot complete another rep, go immediately to the next exercise and continue the cycle. There is no waiting between sets. Don't forget to time your workout and please -- no more than 12 minutes! Perform the workout on three alternate days per week and count the total number of reps performed during the workout (not for each exercise individually).

In the second week, try to add 6 more total reps within the 12-minute time frame. In week 3, add an additional 8 reps. For example, in week one if you perform 50 total reps for all the exercises in 12 minutes, then the following week the goal will be 56 reps. In week 3, the goal is 64 reps.

Let's get started.

1. Double Crunch
I like the double crunch because if performed correctly, you can isolate the lower and upper region of the abdominals. Please note, contrary to popular belief, we do not have separate upper and lower abs.

Starting Position

·  Lie on the floor face up.

·  Bend your knees until your legs are at a 45 degree angle with both feet on the floor.

·  Your back should be comfortably relaxed on the floor.

·  Place both hands behind your head.

Movement:

·  Contracting your abdominals, raise your head and legs off the floor toward one another.

·  Slowly return to the starting position stopping just short of your shoulders and feet touching the floor.

Key Points:

·  Exhale while raising up.

·  Inhale while returning to the starting position.

2. Reverse Ab Curl

This exercise isolates the lower region of the abs. Don't worry if you can't perform a lot of them. Just keep practicing.

Starting Position

·  Lie on the floor with your back relaxed and your hands on the floor by your hips.

·  Keep the upper back pressed into the floor throughout the exercise.

Movement

·  Contracting your abs, raise your butt and gently roll your hips off the floor stopping when you feel a full contraction of the abdominals and can no longer lift your hips.

·  Slowly return to the starting position.

Key Points

·  Exhale while lifting your hips.

·  Inhale while returning to the starting position.

·  Keep your eyes on the ceiling to avoid pulling with your neck.

·  Your hands should not be used to lift the head or assist in the movement.



3. Vertical Scissors

Time to get off the floor!

Starting Position

·  Sit on a chair or bench with your legs extended in front of you.

·  Your hands should be under your glutes for balance.

Movement

·  Contracting your abdominals, lift your right leg as you lower your left leg.

·  Reverse the positions of your legs by lowering your right leg and raising your left leg, mimicking a scissor.

Key Points

·  Breathe rhythmically throughout the exercise.

·  Squeeze your glutes and hip muscles as you switch legs, but make sure to focus on contracting your abs (this is not a leg exercise).

4. BONUS: Abdominal Vacuum

This exercise is based on time and not reps. The Transverus Abdominis muscle is muscle that holds your abs tight and flat. It's a thin sheet of muscle running along the sides of the abs and joins connective tissue behind it and is your body's natural corset. When you suck your stomach in, you have just used your Transversus. This is the only muscle that can help pull the stomach inward.

Position yourself on the floor on all fours. Keep your back flat and maintain this position throughout the exercise.

Start by exhaling absolutely every bit of air from your lungs. Then, relax your abdomen and let it hang like a loose sling, but don't increase the arch in your lower back. Next, pull the navel in as if I just told you to suck in your stomach as tight as possible. Continue to breathe lightly through your nostrils, but make sure you're pulling your navel in as tight as you can. Hold the contraction for 40 seconds but make sure it's very tight. In time, you'll notice the abdominal area pulled in and looking flatter. This exercise provides benefit with no repetitious movement.

Immediately return to the first exercise and repeat the program until 12 minutes is up.

Maintain excellent form, work hard, pace yourself and don't forget about the rest of the key ingredients to the formula. Join eDiets and let us do all the work for you. We'll structure a comprehensive diet and fitness solution that has you on your way to a great set of abs.

As always, check with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program.


::MOTIVATION::

Motivational Note

Excerpt from www.eurweb.com
- Robert Collier

"Visualize this thing you want. See it, feel it, believe in it. Make your mental blueprint and begin."