Toronto-based SHADOWTIME PRODUCTIONS is thrilled to bring actor/playwright Wallace Shawn’s dark, provocative and polarizing play AUNT DAN & LEMON to local audiences for the first time in nearly 3 decades when they raise the curtain at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace on September 14th for a 2 week run.Aunt Dan & Lemon takes us into the world of a young recluse named Lemon (alias Leonora) who spends her nights reading chronicles of Nazi atrocities. Lemon tells the audience about the overwhelming influence in her life of her parents’ friend “Aunt Dan,” an eccentric, passionate professor whose stories and seductive opinions enthrall Lemon from the time she is a young girl. The relationship that develops between Lemon and Aunt Dan and the conversations that went on in a small house on the bottom of an English garden form the focus of this play about political orientation and the allure of certain ideas-even if they lead to murder. A forceful play exposing the banality of society’s evil, Aunt Dan & Lemon explores the ease with which good and bad become reconciled in the human mind.
Director DAN SPURGEON recently told me… Although the play premiered over thirty years ago and has seen prominent revivals both in New York and the West End, its messages may be more relevant now than ever before. The Trump candidacy and the Brexit vote have revealed a disturbing trend towards racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism, and Shawn’s script brilliantly examines how such abhorrent mindsets can come from even the most benign sources and banal experiences. Considering it hasn’t been seen in Toronto since Tarragon Theatre’s Dora-nominated 1987 production, the time is absolutely right for revisiting this intelligent, uncanny and frightening work.
The world premiere of Aunt Dan & Lemon was produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival (Joseph Papp, producer) at the Royal Court Theatre in London, England on August 27, 1985. Wallace Shawn (Princess Bride – pictured below) played Lemon’s father plus various ensemble roles in this original production. This production opened off-Broadway at The Public Theater on October 21, 1985 with Academy Award winning actress Linda Hunt (Year of Living Dangerously – below) portraying Aunt Lemon. Nearly 20 years later, the play received a New York revival off-Broadway in 2004 at the Acorn Theatre with TV’s Kristen Johnston (Third Rock From the Sun & Sex in the City) playing Aunt Dan and Lili Taylor (The Conjuring, Blood Ties) playing Lemon (pictured below L & R respectively)Director Spurgeon went on to explain…. One of the most interesting things about this play is the playwright’s forcing the audience out of their comfort zone, by refusing to acknowledge the standard storytelling tropes we’re used to – there is no hero or villain, no separation of “the good guys” from “the bad guys.” The main conflict occurs between the playwright and a complacent audience, with the revelation of uncomfortable truths and questions about the modern world.
So mark your calendars for when Aunt Dan & Lemon confronts and challenges Toronto audiences once again. All performances at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace theatre. Ticket information and times will be posted closer to opening. Follow Shadowtime Prods. on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/shadowtimeprodns
URBAN GALLERY, 400 Queen St East in Toronto, is presenting a unique show over the month of July – the stunning woven art and paintings by JANNA KROUPKO, a Ukrainian-Canadian artist now residing in Toronto. This is Janna’s second show at Urban Gallery and I spoke with curator, Allen Shugar, during yesterday’s launch party.
Bold and colourful, Janna‘s hand-woven textiles and paintings are imbued with the artist’s vibrant energy. She brings her forms to life with her intuitive sense of space, colour and design. Like her 2015 Dreamscapes exhibition at Urban Gallery (pictured below) , these current works show her immense talent and passion for art in nature and the world around us.Born in the Ukraine, Janna arrived in Canada in 1997; her artistic career had developed in Kazakhstan working in Fibre Art (Gobelin), oil and acrylic painting, and interior design. Her works range from miniatures to multi-panel installations, and can be found in public collections, museums, and institutions in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Russia, and in private collections all over the world.Janna welcomed a number of fellow artists to her opening, including painter Erik Chong and sculptor Olga Nabatova (pictured below)…Apart from Janna’s large woven pieces, she is also showcasing a number of miniatures that are quite charming……Everyone seemed attracted to this stunning colourful vertical tapestry (below) so I took a close-up to show the intricacy of Janna’s work.And here are some more close-ups of her hand-woven art….For gallery hours, details on this show and other upcoming events, visit www.urbangallery.ca
I first met self-taught Canadian-Nigerian filmmaker LONZO NZEKWE about 5 years ago when he asked me to promote the debut screening of his first feature film, Anchor Baby, here in Toronto during the annual Toronto Int’l Film Festival. Although Anchor Baby was not part of the Festival, we arranged that the screening take place at a major cinema multiplex during the period when most int’l film media and industry folks were in town. The screening was a resounding success with a packed house (we actually turned people away), lots of media coverage and Lonzo was off and running with his feature film that was made mostly in and around Toronto on a shoestring budget.Over a dozen or so int’l film awards later…….the writer/director has now brought his latest project, a 37min. crime thriller, Meet The Parents, to the screen and that, too, has started amassing critical kudos and awards including the Best Short Film award at the 2016 Africa Movie Academy Awards. I recently sat down with Lonzo and asked him to share some insights into his self-made career, and about the upcoming Toronto Int’l Film Festival where he will be supporting fellow filmmakers and stars of Nollywood, as the Nigerian film industry is called, who are coming into town as part of this year’s TIFF City to City: Lagos program.
Having only spent a short time studying filmmaking, can you share some of the most challenging obstacles you’ve experienced being a self-taught producer/director?
One of the major challenges is getting funding for new film projects. Up till now, all my film productions have been self-funded because it’s tough to get investors when you are an independent filmmaker. Another challenge is getting media exposure for the films after they’ve been shot, but thanks to social media and my IronFlix movie streaming platform, I’m now able to reach a global audience without breaking the bank.
Your first film was the feature length Anchor Baby (2010) which went on to win so many international awards after premiering here in Toronto. How did such immediate success impact your career and/or goals for your future?
Anchor Baby (pictured below) catapulted me to the front of the line after its success. The film played in Nigerian cinemas for about 12 weeks, the UK for 6 weeks, Ghana and Canada for about 2 weeks. As dark as the ending of that movie is, there’s something special about the film as a whole because it pulled no punches and it’s brutally honest. All the 13 film awards including Best Film at the Harlem International Film Festival and two nominations at the 2011 Africa Movie Academy Awards made people take notice. I guess at the time, they wanted to know what’s up with this self-taught first time filmmaker.Your most recent film was a short titled Meet The Parents which is garnering critical acclaim as well as moviegoer praise. It recently won Best Short Film Award at the 2016 Africa Movie Academy Awards – what sort of comments/responses have you received about this second film from the African and worldwide film community?
It’s interesting because after I made Anchor Baby, a few people thought its success was a fluke. The truth is that Anchor Baby was easy for me to make and I knew at the time that I have the potential to write and direct other good movies. By the way, Meet The Parents is 37 minutes long and I consider it a mini-feature film because it actually feels like you’re watching a full feature length film. When you watch Meet the Parents, you can clearly see the growth on the writing and technical aspects of my filmmaking. I’ve received great reviews from film industry people here in Canada as well as Nigeria. Recently, a well respected industry insider in Toronto watched the film and wrote that he likes the film’s look, especially the real sophistication in the way I crafted the images and sound. I jokingly tell people that the film has a “38 Special” flow to it because a snub-nosed 38mm handgun played an important role in the major turning point of the film.
As a film writer, what inspires your stories? I gather Meet The Parents was inspired by a Jay Z song?
I get inspirations from my pains, worries, love, loss and life in general. Meet the Parents was originally inspired by a Jay Z song of the same title in his 2004 Blueprint 2 album. It’s about a father who abandoned his infant son for a life on the streets and 15 years later, fate brings father and son together again in deadly street fight that will alter their lives forever. I’m a huge Jay Z fan from his Reasonable Doubt days and his music in general has been a source of inspiration as a black filmmaker. He paints vivid pictures with words and every time I heard that song, I get these haunting cinematic images in my head that won’t go away. So I decided to put it into film in my own personal interpretation and also added other plausible twists and turns that made the film special.
You recently launched another exciting project, this time it’s a film, documentary & TV streaming platform called IronFlix that offers entertainment from Africa-based production companies. What inspired this new business and how did you create IronFlix.com?
I believe that filmmakers should create their own path to success instead of waiting for someone to else to get you there. I started IronFlix because I kinda see the direction film consumption is heading. VOD streaming is not the future; it is now! I want to be able to reach my audience anywhere in the world without depending solely on cinemas and traditional television networks.
I originally came from Nigeria, a country that built their film industry (Nollywood) from scratch without help from the government. Most people like me (Nigerian filmmakers) don’t worry about things like “Oscar So White” because we try as much as possible to create our own opportunities and create a market for our work. No one can marginalize us and tell us the types of movies or stories to tell. We have our own film industry, film festivals, cinemas and the Africa academy awards that’s slowly being recognized around the world. One of my main goals is to collaborate with like-minded individuals working in Nollywood, Hollywood and other western film industries to help spread genuine African stories to a global audience.
What are the top films being viewed on IronFlix that we should all watch out for?
Some of the great films and Tv shows you can watch now on IronFlix include Anchor Baby, Ojuju, Making of A Mogul, Pamper Your Mum, Form 36 and many many more.
Your next film project is called Laundrymen – is that a short or feature film? Can you share any teasers or background info on this new production?
Laundrymen will be a feature film. I’ve been developing it for over three years now and it’s a revenge crime thriller. It will be my most ambitious project till date and I’m looking forward to starting production. I’m still raising funds to shoot it so if you know anyone interested in financing a great film, please contact me let’s make it happen.
What advice (or cautions) can you offer emerging indie filmmakers starting out along a similar career path as you did?
All I can say is just do it. Most people talk about what they are going to do when they have the right money, equipment, cast and crew etc. Truth is, you will never have everything right the way you want it. Also, make sure whatever film you’re making is saying something, and it’s something you can be proud of after all is said and done. Your time is way more valuable than money because you can’t replace the time you lost on a film that isn’t about anything.
You can follow Lonzo on his journey with Meet the Parents, as well as his activities during TIFF via social media:
And I’ll be posting updates throughout TIFF so subscribe to my blog or follow me on Facebook.com/FordhamPR or Twitter & Instgram: @FordhamPR
Last night, I was thrilled to be part of the capacity audience at Kensington Market’s Poetry Jazz Cafe (224 Augusta Ave) as Toronto-based Afro-Cuban trumpeter ALEXIS BARO and his band killed it on stage as part of this year’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival.
Performing music from his recent album, Guilty Pleasure, Alexis was joined by drummer extraordinaire Amhed Mitchel, Jeremy Ledbetter on keys and Yoser Rodrigues on bass. He also teased us with several new compositions from his upcoming Alexis Baro & Pueblo Nuevo Jazz Project that pays tribute to his Cuban musical roots – his new CD, Sugar Rush, due for release this coming September.
Alexis has performed and recorded with many celebrated artists including David Foster, Pacquito D’Riviera, Paul Shaffer, Andreas Bocelli, Omara Portunda, Joey DeFrancisco, Gino Vanelli, Wayne Newton and Tom Jones. He has been the opening act for Herbie Hancock and has led his own groups on tour across Canada, Europe and the West Indies.
His Guilty Pleasure album is a collection of laid back, soulful original compositions touching on a variety of genres including Latin, Afro-Cuban and Contemporary Jazz, and features Cuban female rapper Telmary and Dwayne Morgan. Congratulations to Alexis – Guilty Pleasure was recently named the Gold Medal Award winner at the Global Music Awards. You can purchase the album via iTune dowload or via www.alexisbaro.com
The venue, Poetry Jazz Cafe, located in the heart of Toronto’s Kensington Market, is a cosy showroom entered via an enclosed front foyer filled with comfy chairs and couches. Out back is an open-air patio with candlelit tables surrounded by shrubery that offers a discreet area for conversation or a romantic date night. Run by the charming Sean Pascalle and his welcoming staff, it’s a great new find for Toronto’s live music fans and I recommend you check it out in person. www.poetryjazzcafe.com (you can find lots of photos and news on their Facebook page, linked via the website). I sat at the bar with Alexis’ wife, Tracey (below) who kept me informed on the story of each tune and joined me in cheering along with the rest of the enthusiastic crowd as the band took their bows.The bar itself is decorated by some pretty cool posters and giant photos of legendary jazz figures such as Miles Davis (‘natch), Nina Simone, Stachmo…and over the bar, Sean has installed a giant tv screen – last night it was showing a famous Cuban animated feature to complimented the live music.I was really moved when Alexis picked up his flugelhorn and performed this gorgeous smooth jazz number….
Watch for the release of Alexis’ new album in September – I’ll post an event page on Facebook to promote the concert in Toronto. In the meantime, visit his website www.alexisbaro.com for more music and videos.