Author Archives: fordhampr

THE LONG RIDER documentary feature coming to Canadian cinemas June 24

Opening in Canadian cinemas next week (June 24), the new feature-length documentary film, THE LONG RIDER, follows a young man’s journey on horseback from Canada, through the continental United States, Mexico, Central America then into South America on his way to his country of birth, Brazil.When Filipe Masetti Leite leaves his adoptive home of Canada, he sets out on an epic quest to ride from Calgary, Alberta, to his family’s home in Brazil – and later beyond – entirely on horseback. Inspired by Aimé Tschiffely’s legendary 1925 equestrian journey from Argentina to New York, Filipe’s 8-year odyssey of over 25,000 kms across twelve international borders, sees him and his trusty mounts battle intense heat, drought, speeding transport trucks, nature’s wrath and corrupt border guards on his history-making long ride home.

Apart from being a world-renowned Long Rider, Filipe is an award-winning journalist, and best-selling author. The Brazilian-born cowboy is the youngest person in the world to cross the Americas on horseback. In 2020 he was chosen as the Calgary Stampede’s Grand Marshal and ‘white-hatted’ by Mayor Naheed Nenshi. He is the author of the best-sellers, Long Ride Home (soon to be a motion picture) and Long Ride to the End of the World, published in Portuguese (Harper Collins) and English, soon to be released in Spanish. He is a regular contributor to The Toronto Star, a frequent guest on Rede Globo’s Fantastico, Brazil’s most watched Sunday night television show, and is writing his third memoir, Last Long Ride.Culled from over 500 hours of never-before-seen footage, the documentary deals with the issue of chronic loneliness and the insensitive, restrictive and frustrating nature of international borders, but regardless of all that, it’s an inspiring and emotional story of the most daring and epic proportions.

The Long Rider has been 10 years in the making. Shot almost entirely by Filipe on his cross-continental long ride, and directed by award-winning filmmaker Sean Cisterna, who went to the same high school as the cowboy, the duo seemed destined to bring this epic story to life.  The kindness of humanity is on display in The Long Rider, made evident through the extraordinary strangers who helped Filipe along his journey. In these challenging times, The Long Rider offers hope and inspiration, one hoof at a time.“Filipe made an historically important equestrian journey, overcame tremendous challenges, suffered in the saddle physically and emotionally, and after a Herculean effort, rode into his beloved hometown in triumph”.  – Cuchullaine O’Reilly, Founder of the Long Riders’ Guild and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Being a pony-club brat from childhood, this film fascinated me…could I ever have undertaken such a ride? Of course not, but I have such respect for Filipe and his beautiful loyal horses, Frenchie, Bruiser, Dude plus several others throughout the journey. So many disasters along the way including Frenchie (the palomino) getting hit by a truck in the middle of nowhere during a thunder storm that required serious veterinary treatment and a long period of recuperation that kept the trek on-hold for several weeks.Filipe and the producers have been asked so many questions during this pre-release publicity tour, such as…

Q: How long did it take to film The Long Rider?
A: The journey portion of the documentary took place over 8 years, and the interviews were collected over the course of 1 year. With all that footage, the editing process took almost 2 years.

Q: What countries was The Long Rider filmed in?
A: The Long Rider was filmed in 13 different countries – Canada, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. In addition, the interview segments with the Long Rider’s Guild founder Cuchullaine O’Reilly was filmed in France.

Q: How about the horses’ well-being?
A: Filipe, an experienced rider and equestrian competitor who rode with his father since he was a baby, spent two years speaking to Long Riders around the world to learn how to properly travel on horseback. Through the Long Riders Guild, the world’s first international association of equestrian explorers and long-distance travelers, Filipe was also awarded the opportunity to participate in Stan Walchuk’s wilderness riding clinic in Northern British Columbia. Filipe always had his animals’ health in mind, travelling only thirty kilometres a day, taking lots of rest days, and never pushing them.Q: Was there a film crew travelling with Filipe the entire time?
A: No, for the most part, the journey footage seen in The Long Rider was captured by Filipe himself using a tripod, or by locals and friends that he encountered along the way.

In fact, the scenery itself was another “character” in the film – towering mountain ranges, snowy forests and winding highways, hot dry deserts, swampy marshes, and hard stony plains. And so many welcoming, smiling faces as Filipe and the horses clip-clopped into tiny villages and towns, some of which weren’t even on the maps. The emotional toll taken on the young man was also shown as part of the film – audiences are privy to Filipe’s joys, fears, frustrations and anger, the loss of his long-time girlfriend whose support was so valuable, then meeting the woman who was to become his wife towards the end of the ride all bring a sense of intimacy and triumph.

The Long Rider is due for release the last week of June and early July in cinemas across the country. The first pair of boots he wore on his Long Ride (below) are on display at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto…..…and two statues, more than five meters tall, have been erected in Brazil to celebrate his feat. The documentary has already won several awards and received Official Selection status in various international film festivals.Credits
Mythic Productions & Mojo Global Arts presents The Long Rider in association with NC2 Media
Directed & produced by Sean Cisterna
Executive Producers: Filipe Masetti Leite, Peter Hawkins, Arnon Melo, Sonya Di Rienzo, and Aeschylus Poulos
Director of Photography: Filipe Masetti Leite
Interview Cinematography: Carl Elster and Ingrid Vido
Editor: Lee Walker

Follow Filipe on Instagram @filipemasetti

BIRDSONG FOUNDATION’s 1st LIVE FUNDRAISING CONCERT IS A HUGE SUCCESS!

As the song says…”Oh, what a night”! I’m so pleased for my friend and colleague, Margaret Konopacki, who presented a fabulous showcase of singer/songwriters who live with mental health issues and/or substance use disorders for whom she created the nation-wide music charity, BIRDSONG FOUNDATION. Visit the website to see what it’s all about:  www.birdsongfoundation.com.  Last night, June 9th, at The Duke tavern and club, several of her artists performed original songs with the backing of The Long Black Cadillacs band, and the nearly-full house enjoyed  a night filled with blues, pop, hip-hop, folk and rock songs. I spoke briefly with Margaret just before the concert started…

Yes, her anticipation and excitement was palpable. Due to the sad loss of her talented singer/songwriter son, David Martin, four-and-a-half  years ago, she founded this supportive charity that records, publishes and promotes songs written by artists who struggle on a daily basis with mental health challenges. The show started off with Thomas Messenger, then Jordan Gow (see below) Tommy Messenger had a blast on stage with Earl Johnson and his band, the Long Black Cadillacs…as you can tell here.

and the delightfully spunky Ashley Bell had fun with her song, “Best Advice”…

Singer/songwriter PK shared his “Just Breathe” with the crowd (pictured below) accompanied by musician/music producer Bryant Didier who also sat in with the band….…and Jhmal King brought his unique hip-hop/blues song, “Never Settle”, to the stage and even got a couple of dancers up on the floor

Margaret was extremely touched when long-time friend and Nicolas Cage’s movie stand-in (wow, what a gig!) Marco Kyris showed up – he flew in all the way from London, UK, just for the concert.Big thank you to radio personality and podcaster Aaron Badgley who helped MC the night, shown here with Maggie on stage…At the end of the concert, Margaret was very moved when Jordan Gow sang the song her son, David, wrote for her shortly before he passed away….visit the Birdsong website to read the story behind the song and behind the Birdsong mission. Jordan was very emotional, too.Jordan’s mum and dad were there to support their talented son and we were grateful to them for running the door and taking the cover charges.Lots of kind and generous people showed up, including Andrew Cann who drove in from hundreds of miles away with a cheque for $500 he raised for Birdsong (bravo, sir) and we’d like to send out a big THANK YOU to venue manager Donna Riddell and her amazing staff who hosted the concert for Birdsong. https://theduketoronto.com/  Thanks also to Kerry Doole of FYI Music News for the great blurb – it’s great to receive media support.

Margaret had the entire show video taped for future sharing so follow Birdsong on Fcbk, Twtr and IG, all accounts linked on their website:  www.birdsongfoundation.com

Stunning, colourful fashions at RÉVEILLER AFRIQ, Yorkville’s newest glam boutique

I’m thrilled to tell you about an exciting new boutique in Yorkville’s Holt Renfrew Centre (lower level) which promotes local African-Canadian designers and entrepreneurs offering clothing for both women and men, jewellery and home accessories.  RÉVEILLER AFRIQ collaborates with quality black-owned brands that not only serve, but exceed, the needs of their loyal shoppers. Since opening her first store in Bramalea City Centre, Founder Juliann offers a genuine love and passion for quality retail and top-notch customer service which defines the store’s mandate.

Juliann’s sister Jade showed me around the Bloor/Bay store this afternoon, introducing me to exquisite fabrics, jewellery, shoes, even home fragrances and skincare, all courtesy of local designers who trace their heritage back to Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and other countries in Africa.  The men’s clothes are colourful and stylish – no boring black, brown or grey suiting here! I was pleased to find one of the represented fashion entrepreneurs was visiting, too. Kisha of KissTheseFeet.com provides elegant sexy shoes for plus sizes, so if you (like me) have wide tootsies, these are the shoes for you! As you walk into the store, you’ll immediately notice the selection of home fragrances and hand-crafted candles handcrafted with organic, chemical-free ingredients…. And there is also an extensive selection of totes and clutches…I particularly like these beaded ones that come with shoulder straps, too.But it’s the amazing fabric earrings that will stop you in your tracks!! So big yet so light to wear…. Speaking of jewellery, there was some gorgeous unique neckwear hanging on display, finely beaded and real show-stoppers!
One very talented artist creates these wall sculptures….         So if you want to add a bold statement to your wardrobe, drop into RÉVEILLER AFRIQ on the lower level of Holts, 50 Bloor St West, Toronto, and browse the racks – I guarantee you’ll find just the right thing! Follow them on IG @reveillerafriq or visit the website to learn about ALL the services they offer their clients: https://www.reveillerafriq.com/

BBC CELEBRATES 100 YEARS – AUTHOR DAVID HENDY WRITES ABOUT THE BEEB’S STORY & BRITAIN’S SOCIAL HISTORY

THE BBC: A century on the air By David Hendy
Published by Public Affairs/Hachette Book Group
656 pages
Price: $48.00 Cdn • $38 US
ISBN: hardcover 9781610397049 • ebook 9781610397056

Like so many of us “of a certain age” our first memories of entertainment come from children’s programming on the BBC radio, then TV. When I first heard of this historical recounting of the British Broadcasting Corporation story by David Hendy, I knew if would be a big book (it is, coming in at 610 pages plus numerous index and reference pages) and I knew full well I would be transported back to the early 50s when my favourite kiddie’s program on BBC tv was the puppet character Muffin the Mule along with Andy Pandy & Teddy, both part of the “watch with mother” programmes. Later, Dr. Who came along and the rest is history! My mum would love to sing and dance around the house as the Billy Cotton Band Show blared out of the radio in the front room, courtesy of BBC radio – she was an exhibition ballroom dancer during the latter part of WWII and even danced with the Glenn Miller Orchestra during their concerts for the troops stationed in and around London. I would secretly watch from the doorway as she twirled and swayed to the music throughout the day. Even when we emigrated to Australia in ‘59, the BBC followed us out there, it seemed.

The BBC has served as a rare and extraordinary institution in the UK – a constant source of information, comfort and entertainment through both war and peace, and celebrates its centenary as a rare establishment that continues to serve and provide for people around the world. Yes, 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of BBC’s launch, easily one of the most recognizable “brands” in entertainment and communications in the world. Over the decades it has come under fire for corruption in the front offices, political entanglements and audience loyalty and abandonment. But the beeb is still here…and so are we.

Author David Hendy tackled the herculean task of researching its history, its ground-breaking programming as well as uncovering all manner of dubious backroom goings on as a master detective wrestles a cold case into submission; Holmes, Poirot and Miss Marple would be proud of him! A former BBC producer himself, Hendy is an expert in broadcasting and cultural history and was given privileged access to previously unused behind-the-scenes resources to tell the history of an extraordinary institution: the oldest national public broadcaster in the world. In doing so, he presents a broader cultural history of Britain including the wider world of politics, the arts, social change, and everyday life.

David Hendy is a writer, broadcaster and professor of media and communication at the University of Sussex, England. His previous books include Life on Air: a History of Radio Four, which won the 2008 History Today-Longman Book of the Year Award and was nominated for the Orwell Prize.

This book is long, very loooong indeed, but it makes for great summer beach or poolside reading or, if you prefer, a great Christmas present for those who like to cuddle up with some scones and tea in the winter months. Available on Amazon or from your favourite bookstore now.

JOIN NOW TO VOTE FOR THIS YEAR’S NOMINEES INTO THE CANADIAN COMEDY HALL OF FAME

Starting April 1st, YOU can vote your favourite Canadian comedian into the CANADIAN COMEDY HALL OF FAME...but you must become a Member first. Visit www.canadiancomedyhall.com and for a special lifetime membership fee of $25, you will have voting rights to ensure your favourite “Performers” are added to the Hall’s list of great comedic artists. “Voting is set to open as of April 1st for this year’s group of inductees into the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame,” says Founder and Exec. Director Tim Progosh, “and we hope everyone across the country will become members so they can cast their votes for their favourite performers named on the impressive list of nominees.”  Voting runs until May 24th.  “After 2 years of Covid lockdowns, restrictions and lack of live entertainment, Canada needs a damn good laugh”, continued Progosh, “so we’re proud that the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame celebrates the country’s funniest comedians, creative professionals as well as great artists from the past whose legacies paved the way for today’s comedy stars.”   Those stars voted into the Hall this year will be announced July 1st, followed by a formal presentation event later in the year.
Here are just a few of this year’s nominees…Learn more about the previous inductees and plans for the future of the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame by following social media (all linked on the website) and visiting www.canadiancomedyhall.com

AND THE NOMINEES ARE….CANADIAN COMEDY HALL OF FAME ANNOUNCES 2022 NOMINEES FOR INDUCTION

On behalf of the Board and Nominating Committee for the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame, I’m pleased to announce this year’s inductees featuring legends of Canadian comedy in three categories: Legacy, Creator and Performer.

First off, nominated as performers (10 to be voted in):  Norm MacDonald (pictured), Mike MacDonald, the cast of SCTV, the cast of CODCO (pictured), Steve Smith, Rose Oulette, Catherine O’Hara (pictured), Mort Sahl, Elvira Kurt, Michael J. Fox (pictured), Al Waxman (pictured), Phil Hartman, Leslie Nielsen, David Steinberg and Dan Aykroyd. The Creators nominees include (5 to be voted in):  Mark Breslin/Yuk Yuks (pictured), Sandra Faire, Keith Johnstone/Loose Moose Theatre, Robert Gravel and Yvon Leduc/La Ligue Nationale d’Improvisation (pictured), Ivan Reitman (pictured), Andy Nulman/Bruce Hills of Just For Laughs Festival, Jo-Anna Downey – Comedian/Open Mic impresario, Andrew Alexander/The Second City and Lorne Michaelsand as Legacy inductees (2 to be acclaimed): Oliver Guimond, Mordecai Richler, The Happy Gang, the cast of Wayne & Shuster (pictured), Beatrice Lillie and silent film director and founder of the Keystone Cops Mack Sennett (pictured).The inductees will be announced on July 1st with a formal live ceremony to be announced later.

The Board and Nominating Committee has also voted to acclaim writer and humourist Stephen Leacock (pictured below)…and the legendary TV comedy producers Frank Peppiatt & John Aylesworth (pictured below) into the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame. The vote was unanimous for Canada’s greatest humourist and the writing duo that dominated and changed television comedy in Canada. Every year the Board and the Nomination Committee has the ability to acclaim two Legacy acts into the Hall.In the words of Exec. Director and Founder of the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame, Tim Progosh: From the very first political cartoons in the 1860’s through the two world wars, the advent of silent movies and the rise of television, Canadians have always been leaders in making people laugh and recognized for those achievements around the world.  And from Board Member and comedian, now Director of Pembroke’s Festival Theatre, Rick WhartonThe wealth of comedy talent in Canada is just mind-blowing. As well, there are so many people behind the scenes who need to be recognized, too. 

I encourage you all to join up for membership and learn more about the current and future plans for the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame:  www.canadiancomedyhall.com   and follow them on Fcbk, Twtr and Instagram for weekly updates and news.

MEET CONNIE BOYD, THE MAGICAL WOMAN WHO CASTS A SPELL OVER HER AUDIENCES!

CONNIE BOYD is a Canadian magician, inventor, producer and director, with a background in dance, theatre and circus. She is known for physically demanding, artistic magic such as the “solo” guitar suspension (the World Magic Awards 1999) and an up-side-down straight jacket escape over a bed of nails (Shanghai Magic Festival 2012). Connie has appeared on television shows such as “Masters of Illusion,” “the Best Magic of Las Vegas” and the “World Magic Awards”. She launched her magic career in Las Vegas in 1987, eventually starring & headlining in production shows such as the Folies Bergère at the Tropicana Hotel, Jubilee at Bally’s and opening for celebrity headliners such as the recently departed comedian and TV star Louie Anderson. Connie was named Best Cabaret Magician in 1999 at the World Magic Awards in Los Angeles and the “Prix du Public” at the Grand Prix du Magique in Monte Carlo in 1996.In 2006, Connie was asked to consult on talent with a cruise company in Europe which led to a new career producing, mentoring and directing multiple shows on cruise lines internationally, casting female magicians as the lead performers. In June 2020, she created Magical Women, a YouTube channel dedicated to documenting some of the best women in magic in the world in all facets of magic. She writes a monthly Magical Women series for Vanish Magic magazine and has recently been featured in Genii magazine and MagicSeen in the UK.  She also created a conference on Digital Transformation for Magic in 2020 for “United Magicians for the World”. More recently, she launched a new series on the YouTube channel called Blast from the Past which features vintage videos of female magicians from the past.

Being such a busy lady, I was thrilled to get a chance to chat with Connie and ask her about her amazing career and all the women in magic she has worked with or met. What a great conversation we had!

Connie, you’ve created a wonderful web portal showcasing women in magic from around the world and their incredible talents. What inspired you to generate this platform?  Pre-pandemic, I was extremely busy and happy producing, directing and mentoring magic shows and talent.  I was in Italy when the lockdown started there in March 2020.  I had magicians on cruise ships returning to Italy from winter seasons in the Caribbean and South America.  Contracts were cancelled and my talent were repatriated to their home countries on three different continents.  My own magic shows were literally “frozen in time”, indefinitely on “ghost” cruise ships at sea in the Mediterranean.

For the first time in thirty plus years, I didn’t have any magic obligations or projects to complete.  After much reflection, I realized that there wasn’t a source or resource anywhere in the world, dedicated to documenting and supporting women in magic.  I decided to create the Magical Women project and the “Magical Women with Connie Boyd” YouTube Channel, dedicated to represent female magicians past and present. I started by reaching out to female magicians I knew and everyone was enthusiastic about the project and willing to participate.  Being a credible woman with success in magic helped; I understood the challenges many of the world-class magicians encountered as women in unconventional careers and in under-represented groups.  Thanks to the pandemic I had a rare opportunity to record talent that would not normally be readily available.

Tina Lenert, a fabulous magician and one of the first magicians I interviewed, provided an apt quote that summed up how I felt at the start: “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” (Neale Donald Walsch).

Most of us know all the famous men in magic from David Copperfield to Penn & Teller, Doug Henning, Siegfried & Roy, way back to Houdini, Blackstone and of course, The Amazing Randi – why don’t we hear more about the women? There must have been some great female artists over the past century?  One of the accomplishments I’m most proud of is participating and collaborating on the VANISH International Magic Magazine’s special edition “Female Magicians through the Centuries” that was published in February 2021 as a FREE publication.  The essay and photos were provided by Sébastien Bazou, the publisher of “ArteFake” an entertainment e-publication in France.  VANISH’s publisher and editor is a great advocate of diversity and generously created the graphics, layout and free Special Edition. You can view it here: https://bit.ly/3BrqWQx As you will note from the VANISH Special Edition women in magic have existed through time.  It’s true that female magicians are still less than 2% of the magic community, but it’s important to note that the women who have committed to careers in magic are making a huge impact and statements that cannot be denied.

One of the wonderful elements I’ve discovered through the Magical Women project is the increasing number of female contemporary magicians.  French magician Léa Kyle was the first female magician to place in the finals on “America’s Got Talent” last season and she’s currently headlining in Las Vegas.  Venezuelan magician Dania Diaz was a finalist on “Spain’s got Talent” and was the first Latina female to reach the finals on “America’s Got Talent: the Champions” in 2019.  Amanda Nepo is the youngest female magician at sixteen years old to fool Penn & Teller with magic that she invented. Australia’s Helen Coghlan is a four-time “Penn & Teller Fool Us, FOOLER”.  The list goes on and on and it’s a truly exciting time for women in magic.

You have over 30years experience performing illusions and entertaining audiences with your prestidigitational skills – when did you first realize this was the career for you?  I discovered magic in Las Vegas.  In fact, I debuted my first magic act there in the late ‘80’s.  My magic story is unorthodox.  My professional background pre-magic was theatre and classical ballet, with aerial and juggling circus skills in the mix.  I was performing in Las Vegas at the Riviera hotel in “SPLASH” with a juggling act when I discovered magic.  I fell in love with the levitation magic of the headlining magician and puppeteer, Barclay Shaw.  I studied and watched his mesmerizing performances nightly.  Barclay was the catalyst for my magic career and it was he who suggested that I become a magician.Starting magic from zero wasn’t easy, but I discovered magic uses every skill I have and I’ve learned more.  Good magic is a complete, theatrical artform, it taps into my creativity, physicality and artistic vision.  I have been fortunate, able to invent magic and create magic effects that are specific to me and my skill sets.  It’s challenging, it’s frustrating, but it’s also been a perfect fit.  I was determined to succeed and it helped that I had exposure and access to some of the very best magicians and entertainers in the world.

You’ve interviewed and reviewed so many ladies of magic for your YouTube channel, magazines and blogs. Who are the outstanding magicians we should watch for now that theatres, casinos and clubs are opening up after Covid?  There are SO many, I am pleased to report.  Here’s the list that pops into my head:  Léa Kyle, Daniz Diaz, Billy Kidd, Carisa Hendrix, Laura London, Alana, Helen Coghlan, Josephine Lee, Alexandra Duvivier, Amanda Nepo, LeRoya Sanford, Kayla Drescher, Krystyn Lambert, Tessa Evason, Katherine Mills, Anchal, Jen Kramer, Ekaterina and many, many more.Veteran magicians are also making a difference magically on and off stage with performances, philanthropic charities, mentoring and writing.  This includes magicians such as Juliana Chen, Tina Lenert, Fay Presto, Julie Eng, Diana Zimmerman and Lisa Menna,

Magic overcomes all language barriers and appeals to all ages – what is your favourite audience composed of…families, grown ups, corporate shows?  Since 2000, my magic shows have been on tour internationally on cruise ships, on television and in theatres.  My favourite audience is a theatre full of a mix of families and adults; theatre and magic savvy and first timers.  It’s a mix of people who wish to suspend disbelief and believe in magic for that moment in time and even those who wish to discredit it.  The biggest reward is hearing the audible gasp when they react to your magic and performance. They can’t help themselves and respond with surprise, and that’s my favourite moment, always.Who has been your role model or favourite magician (male or female) over the years?  First would be Barclay Shaw for helping me to discover magic, for never considering a woman couldn’t be a magician and for encouraging me to pursue magic.  David Copperfield for his inspiring work and performances which encouraged me to work harder.  Don Wayne, inspired me to create and to understand how to use magic techniques and the psychology behind the magic.  Joanie Spina was brilliant on and off stage, she was instrumental to discovering who I was on stage and for staging many of my best acts.  Recently, it’s Diana Zimmerman for her tireless support, encouragement and wisdom.

Without giving away any secrets, Connie, what has been your most astounding, amazing stunt…and, conversely, have you ever had anything go wrong?  The number I most known for, that’s a signature piece, is a number I created called “Floating & Flying”.  The magic is powerful as I am costumed in a simple leotard.  In the midst of a classic floating ball magic act, I fly into the air to retrieve a floating ball over my head.  This is a moment in my show that I receive the “magic gasp” I mention earlier.Has anything gone wrong? There have been many things, I have fallen into a band pit, been trapped in a trunk due to a missing key, forgotten my lines, forgotten which show I am performing, vaulted from a suspension on a rocking ship, spun like a top when a technician plugged a 110 volt prop into 220 volts, I’ve had the audience in hysterics with a urinating bunny and I’ve almost been snapped in half by a drunk volunteer.

What upcoming shows, videos, live tours do you have coming up for yourself? As the theatres and tours re-start there is great interest in a touring, all female magician magic show, I am very excited about that.  At the moment there is a shortage of North American female illusionist performers.  With my shows en route from Europe, I’m on the lookout for new up and coming talent to develop, cast and mentor. I’m currently working on a Magical Women coffee table book about contemporary Magical Women performing today.  This is in conjunction to the research and monthly Magical Women articles I’ve created for VANISH International Magazine since August 2020.  Lastly, I’ve created and am developing several magic routines to compliment my motivational speech about “finding the positives within negatives to reinvent yourself.”

And finally, is there a magic school you would recommend for ladies who would love to pursue magic as a career?  In Canada there’s the Canadian Association of Magicians (CAM) is a good start to find magic clubs near you:  https://www.cammagic.org

We have a Magical Women Facebook group for women in magic: https://www.facebook.com/groups/268813231889920

From Las Vegas:  Luna Shimada a magician and the daughter of legendary Japanese magician Shimada.  Luna created “the Shimada Legacy School of Magic” with virtual and local magic classes school: https://www.facebook.com/The-Shimada-Legacy-School-of-Magic-2145275525505784/

Jeff McBride has the “McBride Magic and Mystery School”.  Jeff’s wife Abigail is very hands on with the program and Jeff has mentored several female magicians. https://www.magicalwisdom.com

Any other news or information you’d like to share, Connie? Next month is Women’s History Month.  If you have sources to post the link for the free VANISH Special Edition, “Female Magicians through the Centuries” that would be great to share.  Also, the “Blast from the Past” playlist from our YouTube channel pays tribute to many vintage female performances.

I invite you all to visit my websites: www.theMagicalWomen.com  &  www.connieboydmagic.com
VANISH International Magic Magazine:  http://www.vanishmagic.com
VANISH Special Edition: “Female Magicians through the Centuries”:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/kmj5t47yszslfc6/VanishSpecialEditionJan2021.pdf?dl=0
YOUTUBE:  www.youtube.com/c/MagicalWomenWithConnieBoyd
FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM
Facebook Magical Women Group:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/268813231889920
Facebook Magical Women Page:  https://www.facebook.com/magicalwomen1
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/themagicalwomen/
LINKEDIN https://www.linkedin.com/company/magical-women

Wow…I had no idea there was such a community out there for female illusionists. It was such a pleasure speaking with Connie and now I can’t wait to see one of her shows and experience the mystical world of magical women.
Connie is busy packing her bags and gathering her fellow magical ladies together and taking to the road for more shows, post-Covid.

 

CANADIAN COMEDY HALL OF FAME LAUNCHES VIRTUALLY – MEET THE BOARD & CHECK OUT PLANS FOR FUTURE

Having spent the late 70s performing with the comedy sketch group, The Flamingo Cabaret, then throughout the early-mid 80s running Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret as both business administration and as the agent for all the comedians (Funny Business), followed by several years running my own agency, Class Acts, where I was media rep. for comedy icons Billy Crystal, Jay Leno, Jimmy JJ Walker, Gilbert Gottfried and Dennis Miller, I definitely have an emotional connection to the CANADIAN COMEDY HALL OF FAME.  The Hall of Fame has been launched virtually by a group of showbiz and media veterans who, like me, know where all the bodies are buried…LOL…as well as understanding the need to recognize the great comedy artists who have paved the way for those now standing up and making us laugh throughout these dark Covid days.

I recently spoke with four of the Founders and asked about their inspiration for sharing their passion with Canadian comedy fans as well as audiences around the world. I started with the Acting Exec. Director of the Hall, TIM PROGOSH:TIM: Congrats on the launch of the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame. You have been a steady presence in the comedy world on tv, stage and theatre, and produced the Canadian Comedy Awards for many years. What inspired you to undertake such an initiative to formally celebrate Canada’s funniest people?   The short answer is simple – watching Ed Sullivan with my family and my Dad pointing out that Wayne and Shuster were Canadian.  I felt proud that these funny guys were almost regulars on such a prestigious show that presented The Beatles – WTF eh!? They were so funny doing sketch comedy and I fell in love with the genre.  It is a genre at which Canada excels.  The long answer involves politics. I have an honours degree in Political Science.  I could never understand why our sense of being Canadian often morphs into just being anti-American.  Why can’t we celebrate our achievements proudly?  It just so happens that one thing we do very well is comedy.  From the very first political cartoons in the 1860’s through the two world wars, the advent of silent movies and the rise of television, Canadians have always been leaders and recognized for those achievements around the world.  But do we celebrate that accomplishment? Do we teach that story?  Do we preserve the memory?  Somebody has to start and when my dad passed last summer, I wanted to make the dream we shared become a reality.

KENNY ROBINSON:  As one of Canada’s most renowned stand-up comedians, you’ve worked clubs, theatres, opened for bands, appeared on numerous tv shows and specials, even acted in films over the past 4 decades. How do you feel about being a part of this long-time-coming Hall of Fame (virtual for now)?   I’m thrilled to be a part of the establishment of the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame. We often complain about the lack of a star system in Canadian showbiz…or how its necessary to flee our homeland to pursue our dreams. Every Canadian school kid can tell you about the super stars of comedy but what about those who remained or the talents behind the camera, the writers’ room and at CBC radio?Canadians don’t beat our chests enough – we lack swagger – we even sing our national anthem with soft, coo’ing voices. We are a nation of corduroy pants-wearing mo’fos who think we’re dressed up.  My reputation in the comedy business is one of being outspoken and profane, the antithesis of the polite Canadian, and that’s what I feel will be my contribution to the Canadian Comedy Hall of Fame!  We NEED to BIG UP OUR OWN – STRUT IN OUR MUCLUKS. Because if we don’t sing our own praises, who will? Not our gun loving, no healthcare having neighbors to south.

JIM SLOTEK: As a journalist, you’ve covered the Just for Laughs Festival for the past 20 years as well as writing reviews and criticism for major comedy concerts. How has comedy itself changed since “the golden age” of Canadian comedy back in the 80s?  If you mean for comedians, there are far fewer big paydays now (a longshot even then). If you got seen by the right person at Just For Laughs, on the basis of one lucky set, you could end up with a holding deal or even a development deal from a U.S. network. A Canadian, Ivan Fecan, was an NBC VP with a keen interest in comedy. Lorne Michaels practically had a direct pipeline for Canadian comics. People like Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch got to sharpen their skills as SNL writers before Kids in the Hall hit its stride.Canadian comedy is way more diverse now. Russell Peters cracked the code of the huge unaddressed market of young first-and-second generation New Canadians. Kenny Robinson’s Nubian Disciples was a breakthrough in giving comics of colour a stage to share real life experiences. People like Jean Paul and Gavin Stephens and Sabrina Jaleese did so. And LGBTQ is represented like never before (Trevor Boris, Richard Ryder, Martha Chaves, Lara Rae).

RICK WHARTON: You’ve spent decades in the comedy biz – as an actor, improv comedian, radio and TV personality, director, producer and now run the fabulous Festival Theatre up near Ottawa. Why do you think it’s important that Canada recognizes its comedy stars, past and present in a Hall of Fame?  Well, it’s time. No one had done it and you would think it would be an automatic. The wealth of talent is just mind-blowing. As well, there are so many people in the business that need to be recognized. Everyone knows the front runners like Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, John Candy…there are so many more people who are deserving for recognition of their work.RICK:  Running such a prestigious venue as Festival Hall, you must have hosted many comedy shows there? Can you share some of the names and backstage antics…and do you anticipate hosting Hall of Fame special concerts?   Good question. Sometimes the show is backstage and the audience does not even know. Tim and I have talked about the Hall of Fame coming to the theatre. We ran a “Funniest Person in the Valley” contest for the Comedy Awards for a few years which was very successful. We had the finals at Festival Hall with Mike McDonald as the headliner. It was his first show back after his illness. It was hilarious and special. We have had a great amount of Canadian Comedy talent come to the theatre. Women Fully Clothed (Jayne Eastwood, Teresa Pavlineck, Robin Duke, Kathy Greenwood), Derek Edwards, Ron James, Glen Foster, Derek Seguin, Gerry Dee, Mary Walsh, Carla Collins, The Yes Men (Neill Crone and Kevin Frank), and Terry Hart guested with me on my Canadian Comic Witness Program. Always fun and craziness back stage – I would get in trouble if I shared, maybe sued! But I must admit, my own favourite comedy moment was opening for Gerry Dee doing one man improv and having that rush, hearing all the laughter and doing a killer set.

KENNY: How have these past (nearly)2 years of Covid restrictions affected comedians who have been prevented from performing to live, in-person audiences? Have you or others been performing online?  I guess I’ve been luckier than many the past two years – I had a western tour while my friends in Ontario were already in lockdown. Like many comics, I’ve done a hand full of Zoom shows which were a life save; it allowed me to socialize with fellow comics and show off my new material which I had to keep writing. What really has been my saving grace are the comedy workshops thru the “Windows to Opportunities” program that I’ve been running. Originally, the program was designed to expose black youth to the arts, but with the schools being closed, we have reached out to adults wanting to get into the business. At the end of May, we will present our second Zoom class performance. And it’s free.

JIM: Do you anticipate the Hall of Fame sharing news clippings and videos of our comedy heroes, past and present, as part of the attraction? If so, do you anticipate any difficulties with rights from broadcasters or are they on-board and understand the benefits of collaborating with the Hall?  Honestly, this is such a maple syrup level Canadian endeavor, I can’t envision rights owners being difficult. The good karma and good publicity are worth more than the few dollars they might be protecting.

TIM: Moving fwd, your current project is raising funds for development. Last year saw the launch of the virtual Hall of Fame and securing charitable status. For this year, 2022, what are your plans to fully develop the concept and planning of a bricks-and-mortar location? The plans were developed over the past 10 years to create something special.  Not just glass cases but an immersive experience, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Stage One is to create a yearly induction.  Make it real, so to speak.  Our nomination committee has created a great blueprint for integrity which is the backbone of any hall of fame. Now that we have the process defined, we are about to present the slate of nominees for voting.

Stage Two is the actual festival that will surround the inductions.  Something worthy of the inductees.  Shows, exhibits, galas, and parties.  If there is one thing that brings the comedy community together it’s the parties. Fortunately, I Executive Produced the Canadian Comedy Awards for 16 years as well as the television shows that were nominated for Best Variety Special at the old Gemini awards.  I have produced festivals in three provinces and 6 different cities. I sit on the board of Festivals and Events Ontario and have learned what works and what doesn’t and most important how to listen and be flexible.

As for bricks and mortar, we had a few attempts with commercially motivated developers that did not come to fruition.  The CCHoF was going to be a great addition to several developments: one in Toronto and one in Niagara Falls that did not get off the ground.  That is why I am so focused to just start the process to celebrate. To celebrate before we lose more great talent. Mike MacDonald was a good friend as was Roger Abbott.  They were a big part of the Comedy Awards, and they were fantastic advisors to me.  We are not getting any younger and the world is a crazy place.  It became a mission for me to get this going and set it up so it would continue.  When it comes to an actual location, we have a solid business plan and exciting creative developed over 10 years of research involving some of the best minds in museum build and touring shows.  We will start with a tour and a few exhibits while we secure funding to acquire the proper space in the proper location

For now – we have a virtual home.  The nominees will be announced this spring then voting. The induction festival is in development for later in the year.   We can all be proud and celebrate these fantastic Canadians, what they have done for our industry, paving the way for all who followed and perhaps more important, making us laugh.  The tricky part is allowing ourselves to be proud.  As Kenny Robinson said “Sometimes you just have to blow your horn when no one listens.”

Thanks Tim, Kenny, Jim and Rick – up to Feb 15th, you can become a Lifetime Member for the modest fee of $25 – that’s less than most cover charges at the club!!
Sign-up now and get in on the ground floor of the CANADIAN COMEDY HALL OF FAMEhttps://canadiancomedyhall.com/ 

JOHN CANDY

DAVE BROADFOOT

RICH LITTLE

PHIL HARTMAN

BRILIANT STAND-UP COMEDIAN AL VAL CAME IN LIKE A WRECKING BALL TO BREAK DOWN COMEDY GENDER BARRIERS

Over the past few years, mainstream media and audiences have been introduced to many talented and exciting transgender performers, actors, artists, musicians….all the while learning about their challenges and life experiences. I have a number of friends who have transitioned but I’ve never sat down to ask questions or even just listen to their stories, there’s so much to learn and understand, and to celebrate their achievements in life, career and day-to-day living whilst experiencing bullying and a lack of compassion.

I was recently introduced to a very funny comedian – Al Val – who not only talks about her path taken from male to female, but she also pokes fun at the journey and those she’s encountered along the way. The award-winning funny lady believes if you can laugh at something that scares or mystifies you, then you’ll realize there is nothing to be shocked or afraid of. There are too many misconceptions and judgements about people’s sexualities; I personally believe it’s none of anyone’s damned business. And I must admit, I learnt a lot when Al Val recently shared her thoughts with me in an online interview.

Over the past couple of years, you’ve taken very brave steps by becoming the real you – what prompted you to evolve into Al Val?  So my gender identity was something I’d been struggling with since I was a teen, and over the years I’d developed an admittedly pretty sophisticated compartmentalizing pattern; any form of ‘feminine’ expression was kept completely secret to the outside world, while on the outside I presented as this dreadlock-wearing ladies’ man frat boy, mostly as a projection, a form of self-protection… But eventually the weight of performing a lie became more and more unbearable, especially when it was rotting my intimate relationships from the inside – this ‘terrible secret’ I thought I’d take to the grave with me. My personal life and my mental health had reached somewhat of a breaking point, and I decided I didn’t want to look back at the end of my life ashamed at how effectively I’d hidden from everyone. However, I’ve gone by ‘Al Val’ since the start of my comedy career and well before (it’s an abbreviated form of my full name, Algis Valiulis, which is obviously a branding/marketing nightmare). I like to think that there are elements of my delivery and an essence to my personality that have always remained constant – an ‘Al Val’ that hasn’t and won’t change no matter what – but the ‘new me’ is much more vulnerable, honest, and liberated… And that’s pretty special.

2 years ago, you won Male Break-out Comic of the Year and now you’re aiming to challenge for the Best Female – has the comedy community embraced you in your new identity or have you experienced painful push-backs or prejudices when moving forward as a trans-female artist?  I’m extremely proud of the comedy community in Toronto where I live (and Canada in general!) and how generously and open-heartedly they have supported me! I count myself fortunate. Surely there are subcultures, as there would be in any community, that are perplexed and offended by who I am and what I stand for. I’ve even heard whispers of some comics spitefully convinced that I’ve “doing all of this for the clout” which is… baffling. Sure bud, I’ve subscribed to a lifetime of having puffy little marshmallow nipples and getting weird looks in the women’s washroom, but it’s all worth it when 4 people comment that they like my wig on TikTok!

However, those people tend to make up a small population of background noise compared to the outpouring of support I’ve received from the broader comedy community. Honestly, the ‘male’ part of that breakout award was never out of malice; at that point I was still dancing all over the line between male and female, and a lot of people thought that what I was doing was a kind of drag act. I hadn’t openly been identifying as a female at that point. I’m sure moving forward that any awards I get nominated for will be for a ‘female’ category; otherwise I’m going to get those four TikTok fans of mine to ‘cancel’ whoever organizes them.

Your act includes many references to the challenges you’ve experienced as a trans woman, both in showbiz and your life in general. Do you find that by sharing these situations, you not only make people laugh, but also make them think?  I believe that I do! I’ve always subscribed to the idea that prejudice is really a side effect of ignorance, and ignorance can easily be overcome by exposure. On several occasions I’ve been approached by audience members after a show who will tell me that they’ve never met a trans person before, and that my act not only made them laugh but had given them something to relate to. My act is deliberately relatable – I illustrate my faults and insecurities with (sometimes painful) honesty. As a result, people essentially get to ‘meet’ a trans woman and get to connect on that human level: to learn that human universals like insecurity, shame, pride, embarrassment, triumph and failure – we all feel them. This is the human experience. It certainly helps that comedy is one hell of a bonding force between folks, and is also a warm and fuzzy way to process some terrifying and painful feelings and experiences. I do also think that my act explores traditional gender and sexual dynamics that maybe people don’t notice! Moving from one ‘polar end of the gender spectrum’ to the other has granted some interesting insights into how people are expected to behave, how they’re treated, and how they process the world depending on their sexuality and gender.In addition, the fact that I’m ‘new to womanhood’ from my bro-ey, masculine origins allows me to almost speak a sort of common universal language to both men and women, from the perspective of an underdog who’s struggling to fit in, get her shit together and to figure it all out. How can you not cheer for me and maybe take something from the experience? I’m a goddamn pioneer!

Did going through the Second City improv classes & Conservatory Program help you think quickly on your feet when responding to any negative reactions from audiences or people you just run into in day-to-day life?  It’s interesting – I find that the improv training I received from Second City, while profoundly valuable in its own way, wasn’t as directly ‘translatable’ as the years’ experience I’ve had touring Canada and performing at all kinds of places, in some often uncomfortable (and maybe even vaguely dangerous) scenarios. In my opinion, Second City is excellent at training you to build funny and relatable scenes with a team of cooperative mates; however, there is a distinct ‘crowd work’ skill that you can effectively develop through trial and error: getting your teeth metaphorically kicked in by a drunk, hostile crowd at a bowling alley in Red Deer; fighting for the attention of a handful of Leafs fans at an open mic during a playoff game in Oshawa; doing an hour of squeaky-clean material during intermission at a provincial bible quoting competition in Muskoka; performing onstage between a dying Ficus plant and a massive portrait of the queen at a legion in Milton…..but I digress. (Sorry, just got caught up reliving some war stories there…) My point is that personally for me, thinking quickly on my feet is a skill I developed in part through training, but in much larger part through experience on the road. Second City did teach me some crucial skills though, like saying ‘yes, and-’ in all social interactions (onstage and off) to build rapport with people, and to mime starting a lawn mower with astounding realism.As for any hostility I might meet in day-to-day life, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid anything significantly threatening; but if I do, I know my paralyzing fear of conflict and lack of any offstage self-confidence would probably freeze me in place and make me a defenseless target. Funny how a microphone and a stage can change things so significantly…

You currently host a weekly podcast, PodGis…do you present virtual performances, tell stories or chat with guests?  My podcast has become my fun little corner of the universe that is unrestricted by any sort of parameters of the stage and any expectations to be ‘on’ all the time. Yes, it is a comedy podcast in which I tell stories and wing premises as I go, but I do get personal on a level even deeper than I do onstage, and sometimes do some deep, personal dives into how I’m coping, how I’m living, and what my transition experience is like during that given week. It’s an excellent extra insight into my disorganized, imaginative brain… Aside from the occasional special appearance of a friend as a guest, it’s a solo project for now. It’s my interesting, lively little corner of spontaneous self-expression, done my way. I suppose I’m being guarded in how much outside engagement I invite, knowing that there are plenty of people who would troll me and antagonize me for a lark. It’s a level of emotional bullet proofing that I’m working on.With these damned Covid restrictions that prevent live performances, are you creating any online or YouTube content that fans can watch?  I’m considering adding a video component to “PodGis” and posting the full videos on my YouTube channel (“Al Val”) to accompany the audio (available everywhere podcasts are broadcasted!), but in the meantime, am using this lockdown period to revitalize my Twitch channel “ALVALTheEmotionalGamer”, where I will be regularly streaming live makeup tutorials/ transformations, playing video games and basically hanging out with whoever wants to laugh and engage with me!

And how can we follow your comedy journey – do you have a website or social media? My website www.alvalcomedian.com is up and running, and as soon as these pesky restrictions lift I will have more booked shows to post on my event calendar there, as a single place you can continue to visit to stay up to date on all my live appearances!  Otherwise, I post content regularly on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, all under the account name @alvalcomedy  Add me and check out the cute, silly things I’m out there doing.

Any advice or thoughts for young comics or fellow transgender people looking for direction with their lives?  To young comics, or comics of any age starting out: there is no standard timeline of progression, nor any standardized measure of ‘success’ in comedy; these are often illusions that we use to beat ourselves up that we’re not doing enough, or that we are somehow inadequate. Your primary focuses in my opinion should be self-exploration, self-expression, and self-improvement; the rest is just noise. In fussing about how well you’re competing with others and where you ‘should’ be in your career, you’re suffocating your art. Focus on the things you find funny and with time and practice and a collection of defeats (lots of them – be prepared to suck for at least a while!), you’ll develop an inspired, authentic voice that your audience will naturally be attracted to. Be you, take the pressure off yourself and stay in touch with the reasons you pursued comedy in the first place: it’s fun! Have fun and play; you only really truly fail when you give up completely.

I suppose my advice to transgender people would be similar in regards to failure: every step you take and every aspect of yourself that you explore is a courageous victory, and the only ‘failure’ that exists would be to give up completely on yourself. Yours is the unfortunate challenge of navigating an identity that doesn’t fall comfortably into the norm, so treat yourself with patience and love, lean on the support of the ones who love you and practice gratefulness toward the qualities of yourself that make you such a resilient, special little badass!

I guess what I’m trying to say is whether you’re embarking on a comedy career or a revelation regarding your gender identity or even both, art is an imitation of life and life is really a journey of exploration. You cannot fail if you’re exploring, learning, discovering, growing. Be patient. Be brave. And don’t take bathroom graffiti personally; I wouldn’t trust anyone who thinks that something worth saying is something said with a poop and a sharpie.

Al Val has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the Canadian comedy scene. Since 2018 when Al came out as trans, she has made appearances at Just For Laughs New Faces showcase, JFL NorthWest, Off-JFL/Zoofest, and has taped stand-up sets for CBC Gem (New Wave of Standup), Crave TV (The Stand-Up Show with Jon Dore), and JFL Originals. Host of her own weekly solo stream-of-consciousness podcast PodGis, a graduate of Second City’s Conservatory Program, and one part of improv-rock musical duo “OverDude”, there’s no wonder this multitalented whirlwind was voted by her peers as 2020’s “Breakout Comic of the Year” (in the ‘male’ category, no less – really stickin’ it to the fellas!).

I can’t wait until we get back to post-Covid live shows so I, too, can join comedy fans watching Al Val’s exciting career arc…maybe her own tv special? A Vegas residency? A movie? Anything is possible and Al Val proves that every day.

MY BIRTHDAY WISH THIS YEAR IS FOR FRIENDS TO DONATE TO BIRDSONG NEW MUSIC FOUNDATION

I’ve never asked for anything at birthday time, you see it falls on Boxing Day (Dec.26) and even as a child none of my friends and school chums were around ‘coz in Australia, Christmas and Boxing Day mark the beginning of our summer holidays so everyone takes off. As an adult, I know that everyone is out at the Boxing Day sales and if anyone does remember my birthday, I usually get the left-over Christmas pressies that nobody wants (ugly socks or boxes of jellied fruit)…LOLThis year, just for a change, I hope you’ll consider donating to my little Facebook fundraiser for the newly registered national charity BIRDSONG NEW MUSIC FOUNDATION that benefits Canadian songwriters and musicians struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorder. It was founded by my longtime friend Margaret Konopacki who lost her beloved son, David Martin, to just such an illness. Please donate any amount, no matter how modest, here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/417109276761124/ 

You can learn more by visiting www.BirdsongFoundation.com and see how they support Canadian songwriters and musicians by publishing their songs (artists retain all copyrights) as well as recording their songs and creating videos for them – all fully funded! Their first compilation album, BIRDSONG: FIRST FLIGHT, comes out May 1st, 2022, and features artists from across the country.

Bravo, Margaret, and I hope my birthday fundraiser attracts new fans and supporters for Birdsong. With much love to Margaret and David (below)