I saw a play some time ago, the play was titled Red, and it was about Rothko, a famous painter whose work started in the 1920s. Rothko was most famous for layering coloured, geometric shapes on a canvas. They were also huge. Some of them measured eighty-five by sixty-five inches. He was also very, very particular about how these canvases were to be hung and displayed in the art galleries which produced his shows. Like, really particular, having instructions on how to light them, how high up they were to be displayed, and so forth.
My friend Amos saw the play Red at the same time as I did, and the show was wonderful, and it was the first time I learned about Rothko and his idiosyncratic behaviours, his temperamental nature, and his peculiar demands for displaying his work. Talking to Amos after the show, he told me that he never “got” Rothko, having seen pictures of his works in art books and so forth. But then Amos saw an exhibit of these works, and the exhibit showed off Rothko’s genius.
What had appeared as flat, boring geometry and pigment came alive. It pulsed, said Amos, and came out to meet you and imposed itself in your mind and in your space, and he said that suddenly at that moment he “got” Rothko. Rothko knew what he was doing and Amos had been hypnotised by the work of this master artist.
Look, you can go to an art gallery and take a wrong turn and wind up not knowing where the exit is, but if you really want to go and get lost, you have to experience art.
Take the exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario right now, the one titled Hito Steyerl: This is the Future. You can definitely get lost in this one. I don’t know how to pronounce the artist’s name, so don’t ask. I know that she’s from Germany, a filmmaker and a visual artist, and a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts.
The exhibit features several works by Steyerl, and is about the Future. My personal favourite piece was called Liquidity, Inc., but I encourage you to get out and engage with this work. It’s something special and isn’t the kind of thing you normally think of when you think of an art gallery.
It takes up the whole fifth level of the David and Vivian Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art and it will take up all of your psyche as well. It is enriching, enchanting, and inspiring – this is art that can change you just in the viewing. It needs all that space, too, because this is an exhibit with gravitas. The scale of the thing is part of the wonder you will experience taking this in.
If you’re looking for something more like that, more traditional, go see the work of one of the revered masters. Early Rubens, which is pretty WYSIWYG: you get to take in the early works of the Flemish Baroque artist famous for his particular approach to illustrating women . In fact, he was so famous for his preferences for curvaceous women that the term Rubenesque has become common parlance for the full-figured.
In many ways, that’s a shame, because it has reduced Rubens’ works into one dimension, at best, or a punch line, at worst, and he really does have a fine command of form and composition.
If you think visual art is not engaging, I cannot recommend the Early Rubens exhibit enough. The Massacre of the Innocents realises the scene in the Gospel of Matthew where King Herod, hearing about a new king (the prophesised Christ child) from the three wise men, orders the children of the area murdered. The story is horrifying. So is the painting. The figures depicted hold movement despite the still nature of the art form. You can feel the motion, the roiling torment of the scene, the terror and agony is real under Rubens’ brush. There is a fluidity to many of Rubens’ pieces which I admire and envy.
Now, this might seem like the sort of thing you want to avoid, but it’s not. It’s engaging. Repulsive, yes, I suppose, but the power of art is the power to illuminate and magnify images and feelings like this. We need to feel these feelings and this art takes us there. In a weird way, it’s also kinda Christmassy, getting into parts of the story we aren’t so familiar with and may be a little uncomfortable, but worth the exploration.
The exhibit has a lot going for it, and not everything involves infanticide. Go see the works of a venerable master and discover why he is revered. Discover the art that created “Rubenesque” and make sure that his work is no longer one-note in your mind. Let it arrest you and take you somewhere sobering, detailed, and fluid.
Rubens runs until the fifth of January. Hito Steyerl: This is the Future will be at the AGO until February the twenty-third. Make sure you check out the Art Gallery of Ontario. These are just two of the wonderful exhibits that get displayed there, and there’s so much more going on.
Most people don’t think about art galleries when they book a vacation. Why would you walk around a stuffy building with your pinky out trying to pretend like you “get” it. Well, let’s be clear: visual art and galleries are two of the best things and most unique things a city can offer visitors and guests. But, also, don’t make the mistake of assuming you won’t “get it”. Remember what I said? About getting lost? Well, that’s all you have to do. Just take it in. Whether it’s a multi-media presentation by a contemporary artist, or the perennially arresting work of a recognised master, the best art is accessible. You just have to get lost in the art itself, let your mind see it, take it in, and yes, you will understand it. Even if that’s just a feeling or a sense of the image itself, that’s what art does.
Getting lost has never been so much fun, so easy, or so fulfilling.Read More
It’s T minus two days from the event I don’t know is happening yet and my wife and I are talking while the kids are eating dinner. “Oh!” she says, with that tone which means she almost forgot to tell me something. Now I know that there will be an information steam roller coming down on me and I have to step out of the way. It’s happening, I just need to know what it is. “I almost forgot to tell you,” (yup) “we’re going to the Ripley’s Aquarium on Saturday. My mom is coming, and so’s my brother and his family.”
Cool. That’s cool. I can roll with that.
I’ve got three kids and there are a limited number of times I can plug them into the television to distract them and give me some breathing space before I cross over the bad parent line. I don’t want to cross that line. That means I am always on the lookout for wonderful, fun, distracting, educational (if possible) things to do with the family. Family time is very important. Family or not, I’ve got something that will scratch a lot of itches for you and yours, whether that means a family, friends, or just trying to find something wonderful to do with your afternoon.
Ripley’s Aquarium is right near the highway (Gardiner Expressway) right there with the CN Tower, the Rogers Centre, and Union Station. Which, if you’re noticing, means it slots right in to a busy day (or couple of days) spent downtown, allowing you to see the Aquarium as well as several other major Torontonian attractions. It’s also such a convenient spot whether you’re coming in by bus, subway, car, or just staying at one of several high-quality hotels within walking distance of Ripley’s Aquarium.
So what’s inside?
It’s an aquarium.
But, just in case that didn’t sell you, let me tell you a bit about that trip I made with the family…
We decide to take the GO train in because the kids (especially my son) love trains and it’ll be a treat to ride one. We meet the in-laws at the station and board the train and the kids are definitely into it. But not as much as they will get into the aquarium itself.
The first room inside is a balcony overlooking a massive pool, and the pool is teeming with marine life. Turtles languorously drift about. Schools of fish, some multi-coloured, some camouflaged in beige and grey, go to and fro in search of food. Sharks lance through the water, calm, ever-moving, and even in an aquarium they feel as sharky as they should; part of the joy of discovering the ocean and its denizens is the threat and the danger of that watery world.
I point out the many, many fish to the kids and wonder to myself what happens if the caretakers don’t feed those sharks enough. I mean, I know what happens, I just wonder if that’s all part of the life-cycle of fish in an aquarium just as it is for fish in the wild…
Below the balcony we can see people, too, under the water, traveling through a long tube. They look up while we look down, and once we penetrate into the depths of the aquarium, we too will walk this transparent corridor and gaze around at the spectacular life hidden beneath the surface of the waters of the world.
Every room subsequent to the first one has its own surprises, its own treasures, its own experiences. You can touch a pair of buttons by one tank to experience a mild electrical charge. The tank next to the buttons is full of electric eels. Of course, you’re not being shocked, it’s not dangerous or anything, but once again you get to have that sense of the treachery of underwater life. It’s a struggle down there (not that it isn’t up here).
If you want to go through Ripley’s Aquarium and learn about marine life, there is plenty to learn. Panels, videos, and print-outs tell you all about the lives of the fish and the plants and even the ocean itself. If you crave knowledge, this is a great trip. I mean, if you’re a marine biologist it’s probably not new information, but for a guy like me, it’s plenty fascinating.
If you just want to go and bask in the awesome wonder of the sea, you can do that. You don’t have to “learn”. This doesn’t have to be bland and “educational”. But for goodness’ sakes, just looking is majestic. To see the way a sea creature moves, hides, or blinks is fascinating. To look at the colours and the terrain (is it terrain when it’s no longer earthen?) is inspirational.
But I got something else that day…
See, my oldest child is in kindergarten. I see her off to school in the morning, and in the afternoon I pick her up. In between I have the other two. I play, I read, I feed, and I try to get some freakin’ work done (!) with them all day, but my oldest, well…I don’t see her as much as I did before school. I almost never get one-on-one time with her as I did before her siblings came along.
My youngest loves her grandma and stayed with my wife’s mom the whole time. My son stayed with my wife. My oldest girl stuck with me. Not clingy, not afraid to explore, but just present with me. Talking to me about the fish, holding my hand, wanting “up” to see something better. I got a day with her in a way that I haven’t had in a year and a half. I’d tell you the price of the ticket, but for that day, who cares? What price wouldn’t I pay to spend that amount of bonding time with my daughter?
I mean, we’ll have a link around here to tell you the price, but you see my point.
Whatever you’re going for: a spark of knowledge, a flicker of awe, or family time long-craved, what can I say? Try Ripley’s Aquarium in downtown TO.
288 Bremner Blvd, Toronto, ON M5V 3L9Read More
I was down in the United States, and I was on my own for one of the first times in my life, taking a weekend screenwriting course in San Diego, and I had made a crucial error in calculation: in my haste and excitement, I had forgotten to pack a book.
So there I sat in my motel room, flicking through channels, and I caught the tail end of Grease. Turns out it was a Grease movie marathon because the next thing on was Grease 2. I made it two and a half minutes in before shutting it down. With literally nothing else to do, I discovered that Grease 2 was, for me anyway, unwatchable.
I also learned a valuable lesson, a rule I quote to everybody: always have a book on you somewhere. But the real takeaway is not to get caught in a strange city without any clue as to what’s going on. If I had known about some great live shows in the area, I might’ve been able to check out something cool, something unique, and bring home an experience.
Vacations away – trips somewhere – are all about experiences: great experiences. Wherever you’re going, you want something great to do. You take a few photos to jog your memory, but really, it’s all about the experience.
Let’s prevent boredom and grab some beautiful, wonderful memories with some wonderful shows.
There’s always the big stuff, of course. Mirvish runs the biggest musicals, those wild and heady extravaganzas that tend to excite and enchant any visitor to the city of Toronto. Playing all through December are productions of Cats and Anastasia. If you’re here from December 13th onwards, Come From Away will be playing, and all of these promise to be the kind of song-and-dance showcases that will satisfy any big musical theatre fan.
But you might have heard about those. You certainly will have heard about them by the time you’ve driven or walked anywhere in town. Posters tend to abound for that sort of thing. And I’m not saying that I shouldn’t have told you about them, but rather, what you should do is ask an insider. I have a few insiders. I spoke with some of my theatre-going, theatre-loving, in-the-know friends and asked “What are you excited about this December in Toronto?” And here’s what they said…
It’s Christmas season (happy holidays, everybody!) and there’s a good chance you’re out for a classic. There are two versions of Charles Dickens’ evergreen classic A Christmas Carol that are well worth seeing, as far as my friend Phil is concerned. Soup Can Theatre is performing a version of the Yuletide yarn at the historic Campbell House. It sold out last year, so that says all you need to know about buzz…
The Campbell House is this great, old manor built in 1822, which is right in that Dickensian period (albeit an ocean away from Dickens). The oldest remaining building in the town of York, the building is preserved for its history, and serves now as a museum and a gateway to the past…
Gateway, indeed! The version of A Christmas Carol being presented there (running until December 22nd) is immersive, site-specific theatre. The tale isn’t performed as a “normal” theatre production, you’ll be in the thick of the action, moving through the mansion to witness the show, almost like you are one of the ghosts haunting Scrooge’s house and heart: unseen, but present. This is the kind of thing that live theatre can offer audiences which they simply cannot get elsewhere. You can’t travel with the characters on TV, only observe them, but at Campbell House, you’re as part of the ride as it gets!
White Mills Theatre is also presenting A Christmas Carol. Their version, too, is immersive, and takes place in a historic site – the Spadina Museum – and also promises a musical component. They have re-set the tale in 1907, so this one pushes on the tale even further, and might mix things up enough if you’re looking for a really fresh take.
Phil knows (as I do) that you might be seeking some non-Christmas-specific shows. He had one more show for you (and me) to check out. Bad Hat Theatre is at Soulpepper right now (December 6th, anyway) with a production of Peter Pan. He said it was a familiar story with a “new spin”, although he didn’t go into further detail. Just go see it, you’ll be delighted, I’m sure (Phil knows his stuff). It’s a little over an hour, perfect for young audiences if you’re traveling with little ones.
I have more than one friend (I swear it; I’m not making that up) and I got recommendations out of another one. Ready for a bit of a mystery? He wanted to remain anonymous. Didn’t want to seem biased. But he does exist…really…I have more than one friend…
Mystery Man gave me my own mystery. He didn’t “name names”, only hinted at good shows. He told me to check out Coal Mine Theatre... Alright…! I’m always game for a mystery, and goodness knows, hunting and finding hidden gems is one of my favourite things to do in a city, new or familiar.
Here’s what I found…
Coal Mine Theatre is presenting a show called Between Riverside and Crazy through December 22nd. It is a story of ex-cop Walter Washington and his encounters with a “…slew of bizarre characters, each a celebration of the flaws that make up human nature.” Sounds like a mystery worth solving…
Let me also tell you about a man named Dave… David Brennan is a friend of mine who used to live around here (Hamilton), then moved to Ottawa. He’s a stand-up comic and a stand-up guy, and he’ll be in Toronto from the 5th of the December to the 8th, performing at Absolute Comedy Toronto. You never know what to expect with stand up comedy, of course, but I love Dave’s work. I once saw him do a stand up bit which I tell people about to this day for its audacity, talent, and sheer gumption. I won’t wreck his bit here, of course. If you’re really curious, I guess PM me.
But that’s the real thing, isn’t it? You want to find your own gems. So, that’s a few recommendations from me and my insiders, but that doesn’t mean you have to go to one of those. Get out there. Snoop around. Find out what’s going down so you can become your own insider and make a wonderful series of memories for your vacation! Drop us a line to let us know what you’ve found, maybe throw a comment in so others can find it, too.
But whatever you do, wherever you go, just remember to always bring a book.
You don’t want to wind up watching Grease 2.Read More