Little Gem (Alumnae Theatre, Toronto) February 15th-March 3rd 2018

imageOn Thursday evening, with the snow finally thawing around our feet, but a lingering crisp cold air silently threatening more to come, I made my way to the Alumnae Theatre on 70 Berkley Street, Toronto, for opening night of the Toronto Irish Players production of LITTLE GEM.

LITTLE GEM has been garnering awards and special recognition since its debut back in 2008, when it sailed onto the stage at the Dublin Fringe Festival; winning the award for Best New Writing. Within a year, it made its way “over the pond” to Edinburgh, where its popularity soared, winning the Best of Edinburgh Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Since then, the play written by Elaine Murphy has been travelling across the globe, entertaining audiences in major cities such as Dublin, Belfast, London, New York and Sydney, Australia.

But now it’s Toronto’s turn in bringing this popular show back to life. At the helm of this Irish stage show is director Cliona Kelly (Winner of Best Production at the ACT-CO Thea Awards) and producer Alan Hunt (Winner of Best Director & Best Drama: ACT-CO Awards, and Best Production: Acting Irish International Theatre Festival).

So lets get started. Little Gem tells the story of 3 generations of women in the same family, living in Dublin City Centre, Ireland. The comedy is presented to the viewers in monologue manner, where we get the chance to learn the deepest feelings, secrets and thoughts about what is not only going on in their lives, but their other female counterparts.

The three characters consist of grandmother Kay (played by Barbara Taylor), mother Lorraine (Rebecca De La Cour) and teenage granddaughter Amber (Billie Jean Shannon). As the play starts, we get to know each character intimately…Amber is a party-loving, wild child, who if not picking fights with the nearest girl who looks at her wrong, is devoting her time to waster boyfriend, Paul. Its not long before she gets some personal news that turns her life onto a whole new, unexpected path. Her mother Lorraine, who works in retail is stressed to the max in not only her job,  but at home also. When she is not agitated by careless customers, she is bringing her anger back home and taking her frustration out on her self created, rigorous cleaning schedule.  Unlucky in past relationships and picky in new ones, Lorraine craves some intimate attention, but remains afraid of being hurt (like she was by Amber’s estranged drug-addict father, Ray).

Grandmother Kay, on the other hand, is dealing with the events and side effects following her husband Gem’s stroke. With his psychological, social and physical impairments taking their toll, Kay is left wondering what is to become of their relationship, and whether they will ever recover what they lost.

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Each woman is going through their own emotional turmoil, and we can see how each of them perceive each others dilemmas, when the separate monologues are performed. Despite their troublesome situations, you would be very surprised to hear that the play is indeed quite humorous.

Typical of the Dublin nature, the three of them do what they do best and bring humor to mask the struggles they are experiencing; with laugh out loud scenes and quite relatable situations.

With each scene, the audience becomes to love each character; flaws and all. The characters soon come to realize that the ones who will always be there for them is each other… but it wouldn’t be family unless there were several arguments along the path to that discovery.

In terms of the acting, the 3 ladies were outstanding. Used to seeing Barbara Taylor behind the scenes, it was great to see her up on stage, as she was the perfect person to play strong willed Kay; portraying her tough and soft side perfectly. She definitely brought the laughs, as it was hilarious and actually refreshing to see the ‘grandmother’ of the story discussing the physical aspect of her love life.

Billie Jean Shannon played teenage granddaughter Amber in such a realistic and believable manner. A native of Ireland’s capital herself, she truly brought authenticity to this Dublin set play. As a past Dublin university student myself, I could see several of my friends all rolled into the character of Amber, which brought me back to my carefree years.

As always, Rebeccca De La Cour did not disappoint in the role of Lorraine. I think I related to this character the most. Seeing her act out her frustration working in the retail environment, had everybody laughing, as we all have experienced this in one way or the other over our careers. This was the second production I had seen Rebecca perform in; the last being “The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down,” and once again, she delivered a fantastic performance.

Throughout the show, these three entertaining actors help us to appreciate the journey that their characters have travelled to overcome their problems. We see Kay come to understand that its OK to not be strong sometimes. A mother’s instinct; especially a grandmothers’, is to put everyone first before herself, but at what cost? We see Amber overcome her worst fears, only to see the beauty of healing from hurt, disappointment and loss. We finally get to see Lorraine believe in herself and be open to more of life’s gifts.

imageAll of this…plus a barrel full of laughs. The Irish humor, particularly the Dublin one, is in a league of its own. Just when you think the laughs are over, there is a smart one-liner thrown into the mix.

In terms of the technical delivery of the comedy, I thought the sound design by Dan Schaumann was well timed and effective in expanding the visual and audible experience.

However, if there was anything I needed to slightly critique, it was the set design. I always find that with shows which are monologue driven, it is important to stimulate the audience through other means, as the character interaction can be limited. I have seen photos of  different sets of this show around the world, and others seemed to showcase more elaborate set design. As this play is set mainly in the home of the three characters, it would have been interesting to see more set additions and props to create the surroundings of each scene.

However, regardless of this, the show was very enjoyable, funny and heart warming. It will make you laugh, cry and then laugh some more. It truly is a touching play that everyone can relate to.

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If you would like to attend this comedy show at the Alumnae Theatre Toronto, tickets can be reserved by calling : 416-440-2888. Prices range from $23-$25 per ticket.

For online purchases, you can find all information by visiting www.torontoirishplayers.com

LITTLE GEM will be playing at the Alumnae Theatre from February 15th until March 3rd 2018.

I want to take the chance to wish the Toronto Irish Players, the cast and crew of Little Gem and the staff at Alumnae Theatre good luck for the rest of this run, and on future theatrical projects.

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The Crucible: Hart House Theatre (Jan 19-Feb 3)

image1692…SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS…THE TRIAL OF A CENTURY…WITCHCRAFT!

We’ve all heard the stories that surround the notorious Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, whether that be through history books or novels, the media, the movies and even TV shows.

It is a story that has intrigued, shocked and undoubtedly baffled people for many centuries, and still to today we ask ourselves…how did this all take place, who was responsible, but most of all…was there any truth in the accusations?

It is a story that has fascinated me since I was a child…when other kids were reading books on their favorite sports star or thumbing through the typical teenage novella series, I had my head stuck in a book which surrounded the mystery of Salem and the accounts of what happened.

However, in many ways, the media has recognized everyone’s interest in this piece of history and run with it. Take shows like Sabrina The Teenage Witch, who unsurprisingly had a cat called Salem. How about the 1993 family classic Hocus Pocus, which starred Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson Sisters; hung at Salem in 1693, only to return 300 years later to wreak havoc on the town that wronged them?

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Or the recent fan favorite that had everybody talking; WGN drama series SALEM, which introduced characters not widely known in Salem’s history, and developed the theory that maybe the accusers of Salem where actually the ones guilty of Witchcraft…and therefore not the accused.

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So as you can see, even Hollywood loves re-telling this tale, as there are endless ways to approach this troublesome time in history.

Despite the entertainment of seeing these adaptions on screen, one looks for more…we look to experience the panic, and the events that followed for ourselves.

So therefore…go no further that the HART HOUSE THEATRE this January/February Season, as Arthur Miller’s famous play The Crucible will hit the stage; ready to re-open this chapter in history, right before your very eyes.

imageDirected by Michael Rubinstein, the play centres around the historical account of the the Salem Witch Trials, beginning with the discovery of several young girls and a slave, seemingly conjuring spirits within the woods. Rather than be accused and punished for such actions in a Puritan community, the girls begin to accuse others within Salem of the crime of Witchcraft. From here, the line between reality and illusion becomes blurred, allowing the accusers to take advantage of a town now drowning in panic. Love affairs, lies and friends becoming foes are only a few examples to what lies ahead.

The most wonderful thing about The Crucible is that, although it is a somewhat fictionalized account of these trials, it remains truthful to the characters involved and even shows us the scandals that they wished to remain hidden in their own lives.

imageNot only does the Hart House Theatre have a fantastic director on board to breathe life into this play, but a wonderful production team, including set designer Chris Penna, have many surprises in store, as they plan to recreate 17th century Salem on this Toronto stage. As a huge fan of Chris’ past projects like ground-breaking TV show The Strain, I am super excited to see what this artistic genius has planned for us. With both stunning visual and sound effects also in store, this show is sure to stand out among the many.

It goes without saying that this show boasts some of the best performers in Toronto, some new faces making their debut and some Hart House regulars, which adds something really special to the acting skills base.

The wonderful aspect of this play is that every single character gets their story told, which allows each actor/actress to shine in their parts. As a Salem Witch Trial fan, I must admit I will be looking out for my favorite historical characters and their portrayal. In particular, I look forward to the portrayal of MERCY LEWIS by actress Joanna Decc, as there is always a sense of mystery surrounding her actions during the trials.

If you too cannot wait to see this remarkable show, make sure to get down to The Hart House Theatre, Toronto from January 19th until February 3rd 2018.

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Tickets can be purchased in person at the the theatre box office (located on lower level of Hart House), but to avoid disappointment, you can purchase them online by clicking HERE

The Run-time is approximately 2 hrs and 30 mins (including 1 intermission).

“A timeless play and a pivotal work, The Crucible is a tale of caution that warns of the deadly consequences when a society allows fear, suspicion and superstitious gossip to rule over facts and reason.”

This is a play that will not only entertain you, but inform you. Many of us have heard of the Salem Witch Trials, but remain unaware of those involved. Whether you are a history buff or not, there is one thing everyone can agree on from seeing this classic. The Crucible is more relevant in today’s society than ever before. It is a lesson that teaches us to not allow our own fear and lack of understanding to rule over common sense, and most of all, prevent the intentional spread of our own personal insecurities onto others for our own benefits.

Hope you all enjoy the show!!!!

New Business Brings Magic Back To Toronto

imageIt’s just a bunch of Hocus pocus.” We’ve all heard that line a million times over the years; being made famous by legend Bette Midler; in the role of Winifred Sanderson in hit classic Hocus Pocus.

This along with many other productions, may have brought the beauty, history & mystery of witchcraft magic to the big screen, but it was always out of our grasp…unable to touch it and experience it for oneself.

Until now…

Thanks to the hard work, creativity and dedication of The Coven Wolf, including magical duo and power couple Otto Wolf and Star Wolf, the brand new Hocus Pocus Witchery & Lounge has opened its doors in the bustling city of Toronto.

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As a witchcraft/wiccan enthusiast my whole life, I couldn’t wait until this enchanting establishment opened its doors to the public…and on October 31st (what better day) I finally got my wish.

Entering the store, I was greeted kindly by the welcoming staff, who were more than happy to help me with all my questions and feed my curiosity. From the moment I entered, the one thing I was immediately blown away by was the authenticity of the store.

As my academic background was in nursing and healthcare, I have always been fascinated by the use of herbs for holistic purposes, but what intrigues me even more is their roots in the Wiccan Tradition. And without a doubt, Hocus Pocus Witchery does not disappoint with their collection of wonderful herbs for sale.

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With loose dried herbs, essential oils and many other herbal products, I was spoiled for choice, as my magical mind went into overdrive. Another wonderful thing I noticed about this area of the store was how traditional it felt, and how it symbolized the importance of magic within nature. For my readers and future customers of Hocus Pocus, who are eco-conscious, I was happy to be informed by owner Star Wolf, that they only harvest a small percentage from the original plant, to allow it to continue producing the required herb.

As you move through the store, you are able to appreciate the layout of the Witchery, as it almost felt like it a magical timeline; experiencing the origins of Traditional Wicca at the front, to more modern elements of Witchcraft in other areas.

imageThe amazing products to choose from are endless. And the best thing is, you don’t necessarily have to have prior knowledge to find something that catches your eye. Fashionable clothing, stone, crystal & gem pendants, candles, incense sticks, sage smudges, magically infused mist sprays for all your needs, colorful mugs for all them coffee and tea addicts and a vast collection of books on the history of witchcraft and beginners spell casting…are only a small glimpse into everything that the store offers its visitors.

But the owners and staff of Hocus Pocus Witchery have not stopped there. When one lives in the hectic city that is Toronto, you aim to find a haven where you feel relaxed and hidden from the outside world; one where you can sit down, relax and take the opportunity to appreciate the interesting and peaceful surroundings.

imageWhat more could you ask for, I ask? Coffee, Tea or possibly a cocktail? Check…check and check!!! They have it all. With a fully furnished cafe lounge, and recently opened bar… this place is a MUST SEE for Torontonians and visitors alike.

Admit it, we’ve all want to experience having a Butter Beer in the world of Harry Potter, maybe even tasted some of  Sally’s (Sandra Bullock) witchcraft remedies from her apothecary in movie Practical Magic, or what about tasting the magical cocktails made by barmaid/witch Freya Beauchamp (played by Jenna Dewan Tatum) in hit TV Show, Witches of East End? With eye catching decor and fun atmosphere of this new bar and lounge, you don’t need to dream anymore.

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Before leaving my new magical hideaway, I treated myself to a new read (Cunningham’s Book of Shadows), as well as a Citrine pendant and delicious Latte. What more could I want on a winter’s day? A eye-catching stone necklace, a hot beverage and a new page-turner for my collection.

Apart from being the largest spiritual store in the GTA and having wonderful array of products and services, the one thing I must highlight is how fantastic the staff are. They were super helpful with any questions I needed answering and so comfortable to chat to as I sat sipping my caffeine fix.

For anyone who has not heard or visited this fantastic new business yet, I would encourage you all to get down to 592 Queen Street West (Bathurst/Queen intersection) to see how amazing this gem of Toronto actually is.

Regardless of what background or spiritual path you are on, we all seek out a little magic in our lives. It’s what makes life that more beautiful. An inviting note written by the staff reads:

Hocus Pocus is a place where it does not matter what religion or spiritual path you follow.

We have created a space where there is no judgement. We understand that we are all on a path. We understand that all paths have mistakes, hurt, anger, fear, anxiety, every color of emotion. Our objective is to provide you the tools necessary to live a life filled with more of the higher emotions such as love, peace, understanding and patience.

We also believe that we are meant to be constantly learning and teaching. We have created an environment where we welcome questions and encourage that there are no rules only guidelines.

Spirituality is an individual journey, so different things will work for different people. We encourage everyone to visit and take in the clean, healing energy of our sacred space.

Contact details and business hours are as follows:

Hocus Pocus Witchery

592 Queen St. W.

Toronto, ON, Canada M6J 1E3

Tel: 416.703.0152

Email: hocuspocuswitchery@gmail.com

Opening Hours:

Sunday – Monday: 11am-8:00pm

Tuesday: 11am-8:00pm

Wednesday: 11am-8:00pm

Thursday: 11am-8:00pm

Friday: 11am-11:00pm

Saturday: 11am-11:00pm

I would like to take this moment in wishing The Coven Wolf, and the staff of Hocus Pocus the best of luck in the success of their new business. May it bring both you and the Toronto public much joy and happiness for the future to come.

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Dreamgirls Hits Toronto, and its the HOT TICKET this fall

imageLast weekend, the glitz and glamour of the 1960’s hit the Lower Ossington Theatre’s main stage, and set it alight. When hair was higher, moves were smoother and the only way to make it in the entertainment industry was to fight tooth and nail, the Dreamettes hit the music scene.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past 30 years, Dreamgirls was and continues to be one of Broadway and the West End’s highest grossing shows of all time, delivering a memorable storyline, as well as a hot, soulful musical score.

Dreamgirls first hit Broadway in 1981, and was an instant hit with critics across the US. Starring broadway legends such as Jennifer Holliday, Loretta Devine and Sheryl Lee Ralph, it was simply impossible for the public to not fall in love with its debut.

And despite this musical being over 30 years old, its popularity just keeps growing. In 2006, Dreamworks and Paramount pictures produced the film version of the much loved show, starring queen of R&B Beyonce, as well as American Idol Superstar Jennifer Hudson.

And just when we thought it had hit its peak in global domination, the West End stage in London UK opened its doors in 2016 to the musical once more and continues to garner fantastic reviews for its lead actress… TV star and Glee alumni Amber Riley.

But regardless of whether you seen its debut in the 1980’s or in worldwide cinemas in 2006, the story has remained the same and continues to draw us in. It is a show that not only has a big heart, but shows how important it is to follow your dream, and never let anyone change you…because being successful means being yourself.

imageSo it was now time for Dreamgirls to hit the LOT Toronto stage, and I find myself trying to find the words to express how FABULOUS I found it to be. The show opens with our 3 main divas Effie (Krystle Chance)Deena (Maddy Eddy) and Lorrell (Alinka Angelova), hitting the stage for a talent competition, with Effie singing lead vocals. With an original song and killer moves, they shine like stars in front of the judges. Unfortunately, they do not win, but opportunity shows itself before the band lose faith.

Music mogul Marty (Richelle Tavernier) and opportunistic entrepreneur Curtis Taylor, convince the girls and Effie’s songwriter brother C.C (Julian Mignott) that the female trio should become R&B superstar Jimmy Early’s (Kyle Brown) backup singer…The Dreamettes. After much deliberation and arguments, the girls agree, but still maintain the hope to have a solo career themselves.

imageSoon we see eccentric Jimmy getting popular by the second, but The Dreamettes are all the public can speak of. However, when fame is concerned, the new manager Curtis puts popularity over obvious talent. He now reforms them as The Dreams, but his choice to put curvier lead singer Effie in the back and Deena up front, sends tensions through the once close friendship. Effie becomes temperamental and accusations start flying, leading to hurtful claims, threatening ultimatums and explosive exits. With replacement Dreamgirl, Michelle (Amanda Mattar) taking Effie’s place, what is to happen of our once leading lady?

As the years pass, we get to see the true story of Dreamgirls… a tale of success, dreams and love…and how they can all come and go in a blink of an eye. But from failure comes awareness and hope, and a way to not only redeem oneself, but to finally be the best version that you can be.

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All in all, I cannot express how much I loved the show. It made me laugh and cry…all at the same time. The stage was spectacular as the LOT shows always are, thanks to the magic of set designer Michael Galloro and lighting designer Mikael Kangas. But it was the fashion and style that I truly fell in love with. The 1960’s was well known for its sparkly gowns and elegant presentation, and costume designer Erin Gerofsky without a doubt kept true to that fashion era.

The cast of Dreamgirls, I can truthfully say; with hand on heart, were the best and most talented cast I ever had the opportunity of seeing perform at the Lower Ossington Theatre. Not only were their vocals and harmonies on the money, but the energy they spread out across the audience was infectious. With every scene and musical number, I found myself wishing that I had been a 60’s child in Chicago, and if that wasn’t possible… I would settle for dancing and singing on the stage with this amazing cast myself.

For once, it is impossible to pick out the stars of the show, because each and every one of them was fantastic in every way. Maddy brought elegance to each performance, Alinka was the heart of the show, Amanda provided the crowd with flawless choreography, Julian brought soulful creativity, Bobby portrayed his character with authenticity and confidence and Richelle was perfect as the no-nonsense, tell it how it is, Marty.

But extra credit for the performances of Krystle Chance as leading lady Effie and Kyle Brown as smooth moving, sweet talking singer Jimmy Early must be given.

imageA voice such as Krystle’s is one that comes along once in a lifetime, and I found myself understanding why the LOT wanted her to play Effie White; a character that everybody in the world has come to love. Her voice is one of the best I have ever heard, and when I listened to her perform group numbers like Dreamgirls, and Move, as well as legendary solo songs (And I am telling youI’m Not Going and One Night Only, not only were the hairs on my arms standing up, but the people from their seats too. I actually cannot wait to see her performing again in future shows, as more people need to hear the name Krystle Chance.

Kyle Brown…what can I say? This guy brought the fun factor to the show as Jimmy, as well as the most energetic performances I have ever seen. Although keeping true to the original character, Kyle made the role his own, and made the audience crave more and more. I looked forward to every scene with Kyle in it, as his dialogue was hilarious throughout, but his choreography brought the house down. Performance numbers like Fake Your Way To The Top showed what a talent Kyle is in the entertainment and theatre industry. But for all potential theatre goers, his crowd pleasing performance of Jimmy’s Rap will have you wolf-whistling, dancing and booking future tickets to see it all over again.

If you don’t get down to see DREAMGIRLS before it ends its run, you will regret it later. This is a show to remember, and even a week later, I still cannot get the songs out of my head.

Performances are currently running and will continue to do so until NOVEMBER 19th 2017. Tickets can be purchased in person at the LOT box office at 100A Ossington Avenue, Toronto, or by online advance purchase, by clicking HERE.

“Enjoyable & Endearing:” On Golden Pond…The Review

imageAfter a brief hiatus from the theatre scene, it was great to finally get back into the run of things last weekend. When your life is a bit of a rollercoaster, it is both a joy and a release to escape into the world of fictitious live performance.

Friday evening approached and so did the long awaited opening night of On Golden Pond, performed by the Scarborough Players at Scarborough Village Theatre. As always, a buzz of excitement could be felt as the show attendees gathered in the theatre’s foyer.

For those, like myself, who were unfamiliar with this play, it was very interesting to finally find out what the whole story-line was about, and in the process, come to realize how popular it has been since its initial release. What with its debut onto Broadway in 1979, a 1981 movie adaption starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn & Jane Fonda, and a 20th Anniversary Live TV remake in 2001 starring Sound of Music power couple, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, I was eager to learn of the backstory to the show.

On Golden Pond, written by Ernest Thompson, is a play that centres around an elderly couple; Norman & Ethel Thayer. Each summer over the past 48 years of marriage, they have come to their holiday home in Maine beside a lake known as Golden Pond. Each year is the same: Ethel keeps herself busy exploring the wooded areas; picking wild berries and watching the birds on the lake, whilst Norman reads his books in the study; not making much effort to socialize. To make things even more challenging for his wife, Norman is not only a stubborn man, but a pessimistic one too. To Norman, each year at Golden Pond will be his last, and despite this poor attitude, his wife Ethel remains positive. But, in truth, she has to. Norman is already showing signs of memory loss and is already becoming unfamiliar with his surroundings, so her optimism is not only therapeutic but necessary for her husband.

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But this summer is different. It’s Norman’s 80th Birthday and their daughter Chelsea is coming to visit them at the lakeside home. When she does, she brings her significant other, Billy Ray, along for the ride. Accompanying them is Billy Ray’s 13 year old son, Billy Ray Jnr.

From here, the story begins. Ethel asks Chelsea and Billy Ray if their son can stay with them for the rest of the summer, as they travel across Europe. Billy Ray Snr is delighted, but Chelsea remains reluctant, but eventually agrees. Chelsea had always a tricky relationship with her father growing up, and trying to imagine her stepson having an enjoyable time with her parents, is somewhat unimaginable.

The rest of the summer proves to be the most enjoyable the Thayers have ever had, as the young boy brings so much energy to their quiet lives and awakens the hibernating household. Along with this he awakens the inner child in Norman and brings him out of his reclusive shell with every day they spend together.

imageBut On Golden Pond is not all sunshine and buttercups. Although it acknowledges the happiness a child can bring to a family, it also examines the mistakes parents can be responsible for with their own kids, and ultimately how important it is for those to admit their faults and move on as one unit.

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So now that you have the background to the story, without too many spoilers (I hope)…how did the Scarborough Players do with this classic?

Although the play was slow to begin, it quickly picked up its pace, once the Thayers had properly introduced themselves.

Chris Hardess played our lead Norman Thayer, and did so with both heart and character. He kept loyal to the original character description, by portraying his stubborn, pessimistic side very well. We all have a NORMAN in our lives…that one family member or friend…male or female…who is constantly complaining about something or someone, and has the most dismal outlook on life. But we love them regardless. Although Norman’s strong-willed attitude was over the top at times, it was a joy to see how Chris was able to believably become a new man, once the child arrived at the house.

Kathrine Tomlinson was a breath if fresh air to watch, as lovable wife Ethel Thayer. She brought warmth, emotion and genuine relatability to her character. She successfully portrayed the hard work that goes into being a wife and mother, by allowing the audience to see what we all know to be true….that you have to remain positive for the sake of your family, that have to encourage those you love to be the best they can be, and most of all; as a wife and mother, that one cannot take sides. All in all, Kathrine definitely was a highlight within the show.

Kerrie Lamb played daughter, Chelsea. Although we only get to see her for small scenes, I enjoyed watching her performance. She depicted very much what a lot of kids go through. When you grow up in a family where a parent does not take the time to know their child, or take an interest in their lives, it can be heart-breaking. It can be even harder, in this case, when she brings her new stepson to visit her parents, only to watch her father give the attention she always hoped for, to someone else. Kerrie was very convincing as Chelsea, as she effectively showed the audience how pain can travel with you, regardless of time passed.

Greg Nowlan played Billy Ray, bringing a fun, uplifting and warm personality to his performance. Like the part of Chelsea, we only see Billy Ray for small scenes, but in those, Greg depicted the strong, protective and caring nature of his character very well.

But the two stars of the show, who really stood out for me, were Will van der Zyl, who played Chelsea’s childhood sweetheart/mail man, Charlie Martin, and of course, Fraser Schaffer who played the child lead, Billy Ray Jnr. Both of these actors brought something different to the table. Will had the crowd laughing in every scene, as he delivered some very funny one-liners and the fact that his character was so innocent in his thoughts and actions, it made their delivery more effective.

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However, young Fraser gave us all a delightful performance as the 13 year old Billy Ray Jnr. For such a young actor, it was refreshing to see how comfortable he was on stage in front of a big crowd. He depicted the impressionable nature of this child, as his character spent time with 80 year old Norman. His portrayal of this relationship was so easy to watch, as I loved seeing two generations coming together and teaching each other something they were unfamiliar with.

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All in all, the performance was both enjoyable and endearing. It successfully gets across a message surrounding 3 things. Firstly, life is for living and be happy you get to do so. Secondly, people aren’t perfect, and we are all guilty of not being the best version of ourselves at times. And lastly, there are always second chances if we just open our hearts to giving and receiving the necessary forgiveness.

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ON GOLDEN POND will be on stage on September 14th, 15th, 16th & 17th, as well as September 21st, 22nd & 23rd, at Scarborough Village Theatre, located at 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough.

Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office in person, or can be purchased in advance online, by clicking HERE.

Just like our main characters Norman & Ethel, make sure you take a trip to Golden Pond also, before the summer is officially over.

*Production photos courtesy of Thomas Kowal*

The Start Of Something New

“The Way I See It…If You Want The Rainbow, You’re Gonna Have To Put Up With The Rain.”

Dolly Parton’s quote…not mine, but it is a saying that I have kept with me for many years. Every time I have been hit with any obstacle in my life; whether it involved education, work, friendships, family or any of life’s trials…I have learned to use this little citation to see the rainbow behind the rain, but more importantly… the beauty beyond the pain.

You may be wondering what I am talking about…and find yourself asking what this piece of writing could possibly relate to. In truth, we all have our struggles, whether we like to admit to them or not. But I have come to realize that the only remedy to these emotional ailments is to speak about them.  “A problem shared, is a problem halved,” my grandmother always said.

The truth is that I have been struggling with a lifelong issue and secret myself…one that I wish I could have revealed to you all a long time ago. But it is only now that I gained the strength, courage and self-belief that was stopping me from overcoming this drawback and achieving my dream.

And this secret is that I am Transgender.

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Some of you may be shocked, some confused, some may be happy for me, or some may already have guessed what was going on in my life. But the most important thing I must address, is for those who are unfamiliar with what this means. Being Transgender involves experiencing lifelong feelings and a deep understanding that you were never comfortable in the gender that you were assigned at birth. It is an issue that many people all across the world are living with, and can take a long time for the individual to finally achieve a sense of comfort with their gender.

I myself, felt from about the age of 7 that I would have been more at ease if I had been assigned female at birth. When I look back, it was a difficult concept for me to even contemplate, but all I knew was that I felt like I was trapped in someone else’s body; to which I would never have any control over.

imageThese feelings heightened in high school, and my awareness of my true self got greater. However, trying to embrace who I felt I truly was was difficult. Getting questioned over trying to grow my hair long, teased over a naturally high voice and picked on at times when I crossed my legs in class, I honestly felt that any hope of transitioning in the future was well out of my grasp. It also didn’t help that I went to an all boys school…what a predicament.

For many reasons, I decided to lock these feelings away and throw away the key. I did it for my safety, my family, my friends and my future. As a teenager, your worst fear is probably getting persecuted by fellow peers for being different. I was already being bullied for the majority of my school life, so I tried not to imagine what would happen if they found out I was transgender. We all want safety and security in our lives, but revealing my secret would have felt like I was painting a bulls eye directly on my own back.

I also hid my thoughts and struggles from my entire family; my parents, my sister, cousins, aunts and uncles. When I look back, my reason for doing this still remains consistent up until present day. I simply did not want to hurt any member of my immediate or extended family. I didn’t want them to feel that they done something wrong, or feel disappointed at a decision that ate away at me every day.

Many parents reading this may say, “Oh I would know if my child was transgender!” or “Surely someone in the family may have wondered at one point.”

I am here to tell you that being transgender is an internal, emotional struggle, and can in no way be predicted in advance by anyone. It may be easy for people on the outside looking in to say things like this, but ask yourselves these 3 simple questions:

  1. Has the thought about asking your kids if they feel happy in the gender that they were born into, ever crossed your mind?
  2. Have you ever asked your children why they are sad? School worries, Boyfriend/Girlfriend issues, money worries…these areas may have been approached in discussion, but would you ever ask them the trans question?
  3. Do you see your son as anything but your son, or you daughter as anything but your daughter.

The answer is NO! Of course we don’t as it would not even enter your mind. I myself chose to keep my feelings to myself and when you think of it, unless the individual begins to transition both physically and socially, these questions would never arise.

imageWhen I reminisce on my upbringing & childhood, it is all wonderful, fond memories. I have two loving parents, who have given me the qualities that I live by every day. I got my determination and strength from my father, my patience and positivity from my mother…and collectively they have given me my acceptance of others. My sister has taught me resilience and how how hard work always pays off. We are 2 sides of the 1 coin, which always balanced out quite nicely.

And it was these qualities that finally helped me make the big decision 27 years later. As you all know, I moved to Toronto on a 2 year visa with my dear friend Rebecca. In December 2016, I built up the courage to book an appointment with a doctor, who specialized in dealing with transgender issues. I had waited so long for this moment to arrive, that I didn’t know what to expect.

I had already started to grow my hair long, wear naturally shaded makeup and my dress sense had changed dramatically, as I now started to wear unisex/gender neutral clothing. Through several meetings and one-to-one therapeutic discussions, I was able to explain to this doctor for the very first time how I had been feeling all my life. It was clear to the specialist that at 27 years old, and my detailed description of my internal conflict that I indeed was experiencing gender dysphoria (a discomfort with your biologically assigned gender).

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Shortly after, I commenced hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which involves substituting your male hormones for female hormones, through the administering of medication. HRT doesn’t make you a biological female, but it paves the way in allowing your body to develop in a gradual and natural way.

imageSince commencing HRT, life could not be better. It has been everything I could have asked for and much more. I finally feel that my body has started to look like how I have always felt on the inside.

And after 7 months of HRT, I cannot believe how far I have come…not only in my transition, but as a human being. I am the most out-going I have ever been, the most productive I have ever noticed myself to be, but most of all I am the most honest I have ever been to myself in my entire life.

However, I could not have done this without the support of family and friends. Revealing my decision to transition to my family was the hardest thing I ever had to do, because they are the most important people in my life.  You don’t want to hurt anyone, but if you don’t come clean you only end up hurting yourself and living a lie. And with news such as this, it takes time to put things into perspective for family members.

imageA close friend told me recently, “This change is not just your transition, but everybody’s transition. You are revealing something to those, who have known you for up to 27 years. The changes in image, clothes, name, and ultimate gender change, is a shock to friends and family regardless, and everyone needs time to process, adjust and accept the new you. Their shock may manifest in positive or negative ways, which ultimately lies with that person.”

Coming to Canada, however, was not what made me make this decision. This decision was made many years ago. However, taking this time away from my previous life, finally allowed me to gather my thoughts, and think positively. I am so grateful to be living in an era where it is acceptable to be who you want to be, love who you want to love, and stand up for what you believe in.

Transgender women in the media have given a voice to people like me who are struggling to come to terms with their gender. Icons like actress Laverne Cox, athlete/Tv Star Caitlyn Jenner, model Andreja Pejic and Youtubers Stef Sanjati and Maya, are only a few of the many trans women giving their support to the trans community, and ultimately educating the rest of the public of LGBT issues. I find it sad when people in both the media and general public criticise trans women and men, accusing them of encouraging a so called “gender-change trend.” For years the trans community has fought for their voice to be heard, and I personally am in debt to those women and men, who paved the way to not only give me a voice, but to educate those who remained ignorant to this reality.

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However, my friends and colleagues here in Canada are the people who I cannot thank enough for their support and love. Each one of them has lifted me to new heights and taught me how to be confident and happy as myself. Rebecca, I love you to the moon and back. You were there at the start of this whole process and although there is a long way to go, I know you will be there holding my hand. Luisa, you have been my shoulder to cry on and my confidant, and I probably owe you several pay cheques in trade for midnight heart to heart’s. I can tell you anything, and forever see respect, strength and comfort in your eyes. Claudia, what can I say? You have taught me to laugh out loud, be proud and to finally see the beauty in myself. Sam, you have been a rock, and you have welcomed me like a family member into your life. You have a heart of gold, and encouraged me to open mine to others. Kevin, you have taught me how to laugh at myself and really bring the humor to the situation. Aidan and Pedro, thank you for your continued support & encouragement and being my go-to relaxation haven. With every day our friendship grows, and I am the lucky one to have 2 remarkable human beings like you by my side.

Ok before this starts sounding even more like a Oscar Awards Speech, I just want to say and OVERALL THANK YOU to EVERYONE. To those who who have been with me starting this transition, to my family back home whom I love unconditionally, and of course the many amazing friends back home, who were probably anticipating this blog post to come at any time, judging from the reactions to updated Facebook and Instagram photos.

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So there you go, my fairy followers, the secret is out. I really do hope that you open your hearts and minds to my journey to come, and that you are able to accept me for who I am. I am in the happiest place right now, and I want you to share in the experience. I am still the same person you knew; with the same personality, humor, the same connection and friendship. The only difference is my appearance, my new path ahead and my hopeful future.

Then again, I am leaving out the killer new wardrobe and shoe collection. Ha! That may be another blog post.

Lastly, the big name reveal. I want you to know that I now refer to myself… AMIE…Amie Madison O’Connor.

It’s a big change for all involved, to which everyone needs time to adjust. I am happy that you have taken the time to read this and I hope that my story can help those in similar situations. Well, until next time…hugs and kisses…

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Bored? Don’t Be! Here are the Top 5 Things you should be doing right now.

As the summer break approaches the halfway mark, you can be one of two types of people; those who live to seek out more things while there is still time, and those who lie and wait for something to pull them out of their approaching autumn blues. Regardless of how proactive you are, it can be still very easy to miss the hidden treasures that surround you, and of course the great events that are ready to be experienced and the landmarks to be explored.

imageSpeaking solely for myself, I find pleasure in 5 simple things…Theatre, Literature, Fashion, Culture and Food. And when you thing about it…maybe these little moments of gratification could become yours too.

Everyone wants that feeling of happiness that comes from doing something you have always wished to do, finally getting that article of clothing you’ve had your eye on all this time, visiting a place of beauty, catching up with friends and family at your favorite cafe, or even reading a book that speaks to you personally.

For all the peeps back home, here are my TOP 5 THINGS happening right now:

1) THEATRE: It’s Wine O’ Clock at The Iontas Arts and Community Resource Centre, Castleblayney, County Monaghan

imageIt goes without saying that the Nuala and Noleen hype has got us all full of excitement and anticipation at what their next stunt, skit or on-stage show will be. One thing is for sure, they are sure to please us each time with their hilarious characters, and wild antics. Their latest show has went down a storm so far; with sell-out performances North and South of the Border, and now its coming to the Iontas in Castleblayney, to dish out tonnes of belly-aching laughs and moments of outright hilarity.

The show welcomes you to the craziest wedding of the year! Vera, the farmers wife who is so excited that her only son Seamus is getting married, has invited you all to the special day. Attending also are the farmers Pat and Eamon, the Bridesmaids, the Yummy Mummies, the Grannies, and of course Nuala and Noleen who are always looking for love. The shenanigans that go down and the situations each character find themselves in, will have you raising the roof with laughter and applause.

It all goes down FRIDAY 10th November @ 8PM. Get your tickets by clicking HERE.

 

 

2) FASHION: Couture Grandeur Newry Road, Crossmaglen (SUPER SUMMER SALE)

Ladies and Gents…correct me if I’m wrong, but we all aim for a little sprinkle of magic when it comes to our wardrobe selection, and love to know how smart, cute, sexy, handsome or sophisticated we look in a new number we have just added to the collection.

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In the words of fashion supermodel Miranda Kerr“…fashion doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated – just worn with grace and confidence.”

And what better place to embrace your inner style goddess than at Couture Grandeur. Even better, word has traveled my way that their SUMMER SALE has now started. Yes, you heard right people, prices have been slashed to Up To 70% OFF summer stock, as well as well as dresses and formal wear by up to 50% OFF.

 

We all love a great deal…even better when you’ve had your eye on something for so long, and now its right at your finger tips for a fabulous, affordable price. As you may all know, Couture Grandeur fashion has been racking up wonderful recognition for Best Dressed Ladies at the official races in Ireland, and now these award winning pieces could be yours, at a fraction of the original price.

 

And fret not people…there are shoes also. This is my ultimate weakness…my Kryptonite in many ways. Who can have ‘enough’ shoes? Not me, that’s for sure. And with this footwear being reduced to 10,15 and 20 pound, I am just jealous that you are able to avail of this opportunity, when I am thousands of miles across the ocean.

With Couture Grandeur going from strength to strength, I cannot wait to see what awaits the public for the Autumn/Fall Line. Until then… get down there and GET SHOPPING, whilst this incredible stock lasts.

 

3) CULTURE: Castlewellan Forest Park & Peace Maze in Castlewellan, County Down

Each time I see photographs of this historical and natural wonder, I am in awe of the beauty of how much it has to offer. For many people, we take these tourist attractions for granted, or even dismiss them, as we know little about their history or origins.

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However, as home to one of Northern Ireland’s most famous lakes, a stunning Victorian Castle, incredible panoramic views, scenic walking trails, 27km of Mountain Bike Trails, Nature Park perfect for the kids, an onsite multi-activity centre, a breath-taking hedge maze and equestrian centre, Castlewellan Forest Park boasts all of this and more; making it a must-see for all ages.

imageThe castle itself is an architectural treasure and to me, the perfect set for Hollywood movies. With the beauty of the surroundings, anyones creative ideas would spring to life on their first visit to the 19th Century stronghold. However, the main attraction that has everybody talking, has to be The Peace Maze. The Peace Maze is located on the grounds of the castle, and is in fact one of the largest permanent hedge mazes in the entire world. The maze represents the path to the peaceful future of Northern Ireland. Planted in 2000, it is now the intended height for public enjoyment. Visitors are encouraged to enter the maze and try to make their way to the centre, where a bell awaits to be rang. The hedge maze is a wonderful representation of how agreement and harmony can be achieved, if you put your mind to it, be open of the challenges that lie ahead, accept your mistakes and move on to achieve a common goal.

This is a definite must see for not only natives but visitors too. More information can be found by clicking HERE.

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4) LITERATURE: The Waiting Tree by Lindsay Moynihan

Huh? The Waiting Tree, I hear you ask? I know, I thought the same too. Not once did I ever see this book advertised on the shelves back home, or even in the book stores of Toronto. But thanks to the generosity of a close friend, she kindly gave me this novel to read…and since starting it, I cannot put it down.

This incredible book is the story of 18 year old Simon Peters, who falls in love with Stephen Levesque. When Stephen’s parents discover that they have been having a romantic relationship, they ship him of to Christian Center to “see the error of his ways” and be “normalized.”

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But Simon can’t let him disappear from his life.  He needs him and ‘the heart wants what the heart wants.” With his parents recently deceased and his brothers picking up the responsibility to raise the rest of the family, Simon’s mute twin, Jude, shows him that the secret to setting him free, lies within a tree at the bottom of their garden…The Waiting Tree.

imageThe Waiting Tree is a wonderful book for anyone to read, but especially for those struggling to come to terms with their feelings of who they are. Whether you are from a small community who doesn’t accept you, or from a family who fails to make peace with your happiness, there is always comfort in the written word. Stories have a way of helping us find hope, whether it is fictionalized or not. And this is no exception.

 

5) FOOD: Jackie’s Cafe at The Market Square, Dundalk, County Louth

Still to this day, I am so glad I came across this gorgeous, chic-style cafe on a day out with my mum. In an area we always frequented, we never seemed to venture beyond its doors, as it was always so busy during the mid-day coffee rush and lunch breaks.

But to my delight, we finally got to try it out and since then, I would not go to any other cafe in Dundalk for a bite to eat.

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Not only is the selection of food wonderful; appealing to everyone, but it tastes unbelievable as well. With warm daily specials, as well as a huge selection of salads, sandwiches, deserts, coffees and teas, baked goods and gluten free/vegetarian options, this culinary gem is a must stop on every visit to the town.

For the extremely reasonable prices, the portions are so generous, that you are genuinely satisfied for the whole day. But most of all, its the staff that brings the customers back again and again. They cheerful attitude and friendly manner is so obvious when you enter the establishment, that you are already subconsciously planning your next visit before you even order. My favorite part of all my visits is the one thing  that clientele love, and that is how staff remember you personally. With each visit, your time there is individually personalized and you are made feel welcome and appreciated.

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When I moved to Toronto, the one thing I wished to take with me was Jackie’s Cafe, as nothing has beaten it yet in the 16 months I have been away…so that just shows how good it is.

Next time you are in Dundalk, make sure to drop by and see for yourselves why this place is as good as it sounds.

SO THERE WE GO MY IRISH FAIRY FOLLOWERS, MY TOP 5 THINGS TO DO RIGHT NOW. GET GOING AND SEE WHICH ONE OF YOU GETS TO EXPERIENCE ALL 5 OF MY FAVORITES.

xoxoxoxo

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