Friday, September 20, 2013

Montreal International Black Film Festival opens with tribute to Danny Glover

It was a full house at the Imperial Theatre on September 18, as the ninth edition of the Montreal International Black Film Festival kicked off in grand style with the Canadian premiere of the film “Chasing Shakespeare” and a tribute to one of the film’s stars, veteran actor Danny Glover.

Glover, who is best known for his performances in such films as “The Color Purple”, "Witness", "Grand Canyon", the HBO bio pic "Mandela"and the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, was honoured with the 2013 Humanitarian Award for his work championing civil rights, fighting apartheid in South Africa and racial profiling by taxi drivers in New York, and serving as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador focusing on poverty, disease and economic development in the Third World, and his current role as a UNICEF Ambassador.

After he was given the award by festival founder, the dynamic Fabienne Colas (pictured below on the right) and program director Emile Castonguay (pictured below on the left), the 67-year-old Glover humbly accepted the honour by stating how he was born at a time when such social justice causes as equality for women, civil rights, and rights for farm workers were beginning to flourish.

“These days, with poverty, starvation and exploitation around, it’s up to the young people to step up to the table as artists, professionals and mothers and fathers to realize the importance of their moment of history is right now,” he said. “If these problems are not reversed, the potential of humankind is in jeopardy. The work that we do now will hopefully allows us to celebrate a better world for all, and a planet that will work for all of us, for all of humanity and for all of the species.”

The tribute was followed by the premiere screening of Norry Niven’s magical, spiritual drama “Chasing Shakespeare”, which tells the story of how a 40-year romance between a Black man and a Native American women developed in Arkansas during the early 1970s, and how the young woman’s passion for the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare becomes the link that brings the pair together. The very emotional film is well complemented by strong performances by Glover and Chelsea Ricketts, who portrays the young Venus Red Hawk, whom Glover’s character eventually falls in love with and marries.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An evening with Kathleen Turner

During the final weekend of the Montreal World Film Festival, attendees got a treat on August 30 at the Imperial Theatre, when actress Kathleen Turner received the festivals Grand Prix of the Americas for lifetime achievement from festival founder Serge Losique.

In a special live tribute to Turner and her career, clips were shown from some of her best known film performances, including “Romancing the Stone”, “Body Heat”, “Prizzi’s Honor” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”. This was followed by a live interview with Turner, in which she related several interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes, including how because of an actors’ strike in the summer of 1980, the shooting of “Body Heat” was done during the winter months, and she and co-star William Hurt had to chew ice cubes in between takes, so that their breath didn’t cloud when they spoke their lines; and when she was filming “Prizzi’s Honor”, director John Huston told her that “no woman is sexy and funny at the same time.” Turner also mentioned she will be making her singing debut at the beginning of 2014 when she appears in the stage production of “Mother Courage” in Washington, D.C.

The evening also included video tributes to Turner from co-stars Danny Devito and Michael Douglas, as well as a lively 96-year-old Kirk Douglas, who related the time when they “dated” during the filming of “Romancing the Stone” on location in Mexico. And Turner’s daughter Rachel sang a song in honour of her mother that she written and composed herself especially for the occasion.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Exploring the beers that made Milwaukee famous

 MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – You can’t visit Milwaukee without noticing one of the main things that have made this city famous: beer.

When you’re in its downtown core, you are bombarded with signs of the breweries that have put this city on the map, whether it be Pabst, Miller, Schlitz or any of the smaller breweries that have contributed to its brewing heritage; even its Major League Baseball team promotes that heritage, as the Brewers plays its games in the majestic Miller Park.

And there are four brewery tours in the city that offer visitors a look behind its respective sudsy history (not to mention sample its famous suds). Last month, while I was staffing a two-week BBYO youth leadership camp in nearby Mukwonago, me and my colleagues Todd and Marty spent a day off in Milwaukee. After checking out the Harley-Davidson Museum, we decided to explore how Milwaukee was also built on beer.

That’s when we checked out the site of one of Milwaukee’s oldest and best known brewers, Pabst, which was established in 1844 and is still going strong (especially with its trademark Pabst Blue Ribbon beer). Although the original Pabst brewery facility closed in 1996, the buildings that made up the Pabst brewery are still standing and have been converted into the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery.

Named after Jacob Best, Sr. and Phillip Best, who established the brewery in 1844, the Best Place is run by its chief steward Jim Haertel, who purchased the facility for $10 million and has devoted himself to preserving Pabst’s brewing legacy to Milwaukee by gradually restoring the facility to its former 1880s glory. Haertel (pictured below at left, in the middle of the old Pabst corporate office that he is in the midst of renovating) is a walking encyclopedia of brewing history, and is always seen entertaining visitors at the guest center with his vast encyclopedic knowledge (especially how Milwaukee’s brewing dynasties have deep bloodlines through marriage). I even tried to stump him about Groucho Marx’s involvement with the Pabst family in 1944 when he hosted the radio show “Blue Ribbon Town” (and got then president G.W. Pabst drunk on Miller High Life beer, thereby ending his gig as the show’s host); he then proceeded to tell me a couple of anecdotes about Groucho and “Blue Ribbon Town” that I never heard or read about before.
Haertel then gave me, Todd and Marty a private tour of the old Pabst facility and its offices, starting with Blue Ribbon Hall, a beautiful reception hall with a traditional wooden beer hall décor that can accommodate up to 300 people (and was once used to film a series of Pabst TV commercials during the 50s and 60s). When we were shown the old Pabst corporate offices, including the original company boardroom and Captain Frederick Pabst’s office (with his rolltop desk, pictured below), you could sense the ghosts of Milwaukee’s brewing tradition seeping through its walls.

One vivid example of this aspect of preserving Milwaukee’s brewing history is the Brewhouse Inn and Suites, which is located across the street from the Best Place. The most distinguishing features of this all suite hotel, which occupies the building of the original Pabst brewhouse, are the enormous copper kettles that were used to brew their beer and the stained glass murals that date back to the 1880s, which have been integrated into the hotel’s décor (both are pictured below).

And how have Haertel’s efforts to preserve Pabst’s legacy to the city of Milwaukee paid off? The Best Place and the Brewhouse Inn and Suites were both certified as historic structures by the National Register of Historic Places. Not bad for a beer that helped to make Milwaukee famous.

The Best Place also has quite an interesting souvenir shop, with everything type of memorabilia that caters to the beer lover in you. There's mugs, glasses, old fashioned beer steins, collectibles, hats, insulated bottle and can holders that extol the virtues of Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, Old Milwaukee and several brands that are no longer on tap (plus t-shirts, including this one pictured below, which shows a rather interesting way to promote Pabst Blue Ribbon beer).

For more information about the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, go to; to find out more about the Brewhouse Inn and Suites, go to

Most of this posting originally appeared in the August 17, 2013 edition of The West End Times.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Visit to "Hog Heaven" -- the Harley-Davidson Museum

Milwaukee is a city that is chiefly known for two things: beer and “hogs”.

Regarding the latter category, I am not referring to the animal where pork products are derived from (and in the form of sausages, which goes well with beer … but that’s a topic that will be tackled in next week’s column). What I mean by “hogs” are the roaring, high-octane, free-wheeling motorcycles made by Harley-Davidson, which is recognized around the world as one of the leading manufacturers of those two-wheeled vehicles that represent freedom, rebellion and the love of the open road.

Milwaukee is the birthplace of Harley-Davidson, and this year, the company is marking its 110th anniversary. Celebrations are going to culminate this Labour Day Weekend with a three-day blowout that will attract over 100,000 H-D riders and enthusiasts to Milwaukee. Activities include a custom bike show, the 110th MDA Parade of Heroes which will showcase H-D riders from around the world, street parties, a “Harley-Davidson Hometown Throwdown” edition of UFC 164, and a three-day concert at the Summerfest grounds (Milwaukee’s answer to Parc Jean-Drapeau), with such headline acts as Aerosmith, Kid Rock, ZZ Top, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Blue Oyster Cult, Toby Keith and the Doobie Brothers.

Perhaps the nucleus of the Harley-Davidson universe in Milwaukee is its 20-acre museum, which is located on West Canal Street in the downtown area. It’s a fascinating, interactive celebration of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and how they defined a part of American history and culture, and how it forever changed transportation into an art and a way of life.

Last month, while staffing the B’nai Brith Youth Organization’s (BBYO) Chapter Leadership Training Conference in nearby Mukwonago, me and two fellow BBYO staffers – Todd Kay from Cleveland and Marty Paz from Las Vegas – decided on our day off to check out this virtual “hog heaven” (we're pictured above, atop a Harley-Davidson hog built for three).

From the moment you set foot onto the museum grounds, you are immediately immersed into the Harley-Davidson culture, which is quite evident with the manufacturing plant-style of the museum’s exterior (with the H-D logo proudly emblazoned above the entrance), to the long lines of motorcycles that are diagonally placed in its parking lot.

As soon as we entered the museum (the permanent exhibition begins on the second floor), you are immediately given an up close history lesson on the evolution of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, as a chronological procession of actual bikes are on permanent display from 1903 until the present. The museum also includes the oldest Harley-Davidson motorcycle in existence (called “Serial Number One”, pictured below), which is displayed in a special glass encasing, and is surrounded by the actual dimensions of the original shed where it was built 110 years ago (and believe me, that shed did not allow the designers, builders and mechanics a great deal of elbow room to create this piece of transportation history).

The motorcycles that are on display (as well as the countless pieces of memorabilia and artifacts) also tell the story of Harley-Davidson’s contribution to the development of the motorcycle as a vital means of leisure, commercial and military transportation, including the armed forces during both World Wars, the post office, courier companies, and of course law enforcement (police departments began using Harley-Davidson motorcycles as early as the 1920s).

As well, there are interactive exhibits, where for example you can see and demonstrate how a typical Harley-Davidson internal combustion engine works. One of my favorite parts of the museum was its salute to how Harley-Davidson and its bikes played a role in making its company more visible to the general public through pop culture (i.e., TV shows, movies such as “The Wild One” and daredevil Evel Knievel); there is even on display the two choppers that were driven by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the 1969 cult classic film “Easy Rider” (which are pictured above). 

But what if you wanted to experience the feeling of riding an actual “hog”? The museum can help you fulfill that wish with “Jumpstart”. Located near the main entrance, it gives the visitor that rare opportunity of what it’s like to drive a genuine Harley-Davidson bike. As you sit atop a current model of the bike, a licensed instructor from the Harley-Davidson University gives you a step-by-step lesson on how to operate and drive it, from starting up the engine, to accelerating and stopping, to changing gears, maintaining speeds and using the clutch (pictured on the right is my friend Marty Paz "riding" a hog). And by the way, don’t worry about driving off with the bike … the rear wheel is placed on a treadmill. The three of us tried this motorcycle ride simulation, and realized the great feeling one gets when they tear down the road on one of these high-powered machines, and what it involves to operate it (I handled it pretty well, I have to admit … although the engine “stalled” on me only once).
So whether you have a passing interest or a passion for motorcycles, or whether you are born to be wild or mild (I fall into the latter category, just take a look at me atop this vintage late 1920s/early 1930s H-D motorcycle), the Harley-Davidson Museum is the ideal place to discover America, and the world’s, two-wheeled love affair with the motorcycle.

For more information about the museum, as well as the Harley-Davidson 110th anniversary celebrations, check out their website at

* * *

This blog post originally appeared in my Grapevine column in the August 10, 2013 edition of the West End Times.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A chat with Godfrey

I've attended every Just For Laughs festival since 1986, and in the 28 years that I've seen my share of galas, themed shows, solo shows and theatrical productions, I somehow have developed an instinct of seeing an up and coming comedian make their festival debut and once they completed their set, would realize that they would be on the road to fame and a big career in stand-up and beyond. I had that feeling when I first saw Drew Carey, John Pinette, the late Patrice O'Neal, Marc Maron, Russell Peters, Sugar Sammy, Tommy Tiernan, the late Mitch Hedberg, Bobby Slayton, Dom Irerra and Kathy Griffin, as they first stepped on a Just For Laughs stage. And that feeling continued when I first saw Godfrey perform at Club Soda a few short years ago. Last year, he became a full fledged festival favorite with his killer sets at the Ethnic Show. At this year's fest, Godfrey will assume the hosting duties for The Relationship Show, as well as perform his own solo show at Place des Arts. A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with Godfrey (he had me laughing throughout the entire 15 minutes; I could have stayed on the phone with him for at least another hour). The end result is the item below, which originally appeared in my Grapevine column in the July 13 edition of the West End Times.

* * *

When American comedian Godfrey was chosen to host this year’s edition of “Date Night: The Relationship Show” at the Just For Laughs festival, he never saw himself as a true expert when it came to dating, mating and relating.

“I don’t know if I am a relationship expert, but I know how to make it funny, because I have a girlfriend for the past seven years and I am in it for a very long time,” he said during a recent phone interview with the Grapevine from Tampa, Florida.

Godfrey will be sharing the Relationship Show stage with four other comics -- Bob Marley, Debra Di Giovanni, Tom Papa and Robert Kelly -- who will be giving their comic perspective on what it’s like to be a romantic couple for the long haul. The show will run from July 17-20 at Club Soda, and July 24 and 25 at Metropolis. As well, he will be performing in a solo show called “The Godfrey Complex” from July 22-27 at the Studio Theatre of Place des Arts.

And Godfrey credits his girlfriend for making him not only a better person, but also how to appreciate other people’s faults and respect their habits. “Comics are very self-centred people and only think about themselves; they are filled with narcissism and insecurities,” he said. “With my girlfriend, we get to laugh a lot, we get to know each other better and know what crap we want to deal with.”

“Communication is also very important when it comes to having a healthy relationship, and my girlfriend is a great communicator. In fact, she is a better communicator than (Winston) Churchill; in fact, she could beat Churchill,” he added. “However, she has made me a better listener and I have become much smarter about money and judging the people around me. I used to be an observer and jump the gun a lot. She has taught me to try and have a little more cynicism and doubt. But thank God she’s there to show me how a relationship works, because I suck at it.”

One obvious key to a successful relationship, Godfrey believes, is a good sense of humour. “Humour is what keeps the links strong to the relationship chain. You got to have a sense of humour,” he said. 

Born Godfrey C. Danchimah, Jr. in Lincoln, Nebraska 44 years ago to parents who fled the bloody civil war in Nigeria, Godfrey got his start as a comic when he was a rookie with the varsity football team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he performed at the annual talent show for new members of the team. “When I was a rookie with the team, the custom was to have my head shaved and do the talent show. I had to do the show, or I would have faced the prospect of getting beaten by a bunch of 300-pound dudes,” he said.

From there, he honed his comedy skills at open mic nights at comedy clubs in Chicago, and made his New York debut in 1995 at Caroline’s Comedy Club and The Comic Strip Live. Godfrey has been seen in a variety of TV shows and movies, such as “30 Rock”,  “Soul Plane”, “Zoolander” and “Louie”. He is currently taping the second season of a video comedy show called “Upload with Shaquille O’Neal”, which airs on the American reality cable channel truTV.

Last year, after killer sets on the Ethnic Show and a Juste pour Rire gala, Godfrey became the breakout star of the 2012 festival. His new status as a Just For Laughs fan favorite is quite surprising to him. “I never thought I would be that guy, but I’m just there and I’m loving it,” he said. “Winning over Montreal audiences at Just For Laughs was a tough nut to crack, but now I got my groove there, and it’s great to be considered a part of the Just For Laughs family.”

“I am now consistently getting my Canadian groove on,” he added. “Canada maybe a little different culturally speaking, but now I am used to you. It’s like I’m your friend now, and it’s awesome.”

Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Interview with Shaun Majumder

With the 31st edition of the Just For Laughs comedy festival set to begin in 11 days' time, I am blessed to attend -- and cover -- the festival for the 28th time. And with the days leading up to the festival, the good people at the JFL p.r. department are not only giving me the chance to see a selection of shows to write about in my Grapevine column, but also get the chance to interview a select group of comics who will shortly be making their way to Montreal. One of them is Canadian comic Shaun Majumder, a longtime Just For Laughs veteran (and best known for his sweaty correspondent character Raj Binder, whom you see regularly on CBC's "This Hour Has 22 Minutes"). This year, Majumder is hosting a live Just For Laughs show for the very first time, which will be the Ethnic Show, which starts its run at Club Soda on July 10. Last week, I had the chance to conduct a phone interview with him from his hometown of Burlington, Newfoundland. The end result is below, which originally appeared in my Grapevine column in the June 29 edition of the West End Times (oh, and by the way, that's Majumder and me pictured above, schmoozing it up outside the Delta Hotel bar one late Saturday night during the 2006 Just For Laughs festival).

* * *

Comedian Shaun Majumder was born 41 years ago in Burlington, Newfoundland, the son of a Bengali Hindu Indian father and a native Newfoundland mother of European descent. But what was it like to grow up in this unique Canadian province as a child of mixed ethnic heritage?

“It was great, but it was challenging, too, especially when me and my friends played different sports. We picked a favorite player and we had to be that favorite player,” said Majumder in a recent interview with the Grapevine. “I was always the Black guy or the Chinese guy, like Michael Jordan or Bruce Lee. And when we played hockey, I could never be Wayne Gretzky; I had to be Grant Fuhr!”

A longtime veteran of the Just For Laughs festival, Majumder will be performing hosting duties for the very first time, as he will be helming this year’s edition of The Ethnic Show, which will be playing at Club Soda from July 10-14 at Club Soda, and July 26 and 27 at Metropolis. Joining Majumder on the Ethnic Show lineup will be Gary Gulman, Trevor Noah, Cristela Alonzo and Fahim Anwar.

“I’m really excited about hosting a live Just For Laughs show for the first time. It’s the only festival that I always commit myself to doing because it is THE greatest comedy festival around. I also enjoy the challenge of being the person who strings all the elements together. In a way, you get to spend the evening with me and we make a connection until I have to introduce the next act. I’m the sounding board where I mix the ethnicities who are appearing on the show, which is sort of like C3PO with the ability to speak six million languages,” said Majumder, who was speaking from his hometown of Burlington.

A veteran comedian who has appeared in a wide array of American and Canadian TV shows such as “Republic of Doyle”, “The Firm” and “Detroit 1-8-7”, not to mention as a regular on CBC’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” in the guide of the sweaty, nervous correspondent Raj Binder, Majumder realizes the importance that people should be able to laugh at their own ethnic traits, as well as those of other communities, as long as the source of that laughter has plenty of honesty and sensitivity to it. “Our planet has so much biological diversity to it, that nothing is pure to begin with. The Ethnic Show is not just ethnic jokes, but looking at different perspectives of different people, which is what comedy is all about, not to mention the power of diversity,” he said. “At the Ethnic Show, we are going to spray the crowd with a lot of diversity.” 

These days, Majumder is focusing on his latest project, a reality series called “Majumder Manor”. Since it started airing earlier this year, the show traces his efforts to help make his hometown of Burlington, Newfoundland a potential hot spot for tourists. So far, Majumder – who is the only shareholder in the project – reports that a greenhouse has been built and is fully functional, and is in the midst of developing a luxury campsites for potential visitors in which prospector tents will be used for accommodations. There will also be an arts and cultural festival about anything and everything concerning Newfoundland called “The Gathering”, which will take place in Burlington from August 23-25.

“Majumder Manor is a long process and not an easy one, but at least this project will benefit the community at large in its mission to draw tourists to Newfoundland. This is quite a challenge, because there is not much here in Burlington, but I am excited about its prospects,” he said.

Fr more information about the Ethnic Show or any other Just For Laughs shows, visit their website at And if you want to find out more about Shaun Majumder’s upcoming The Gathering Festival, go to

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sculptor Gary Bernett carves out a new chapter in his life in his native Montreal

Author's Note: I knew the Bernett family when I was growing up in the Montreal suburb of Ville St. Laurent during the late 60s and early 70s (they lived several blocks away from our Alexis Nihon Blvd. home). David Bernett served the community in the local sports scene; I knew him as a referee every Sunday morning during our Beth Ora Hockey League games at Chamberlain Park, and his son Gary was there at these games, too (and he remembers that I was a less-than-terrific player on the ice, to which I fully agreed with him). Early last month, I bumped into Gary at his newly-established open air kiosk on St. Catherine Street West, where he displayed and sold many of his hand-crafted relief sculptures, and after hearing many of his stories of his life as an internationally-renowned sculptor, I knew this would make an interesting lengthy item in my Grapevine column. The following blog originally appeared in my Grapevine column, which was published in the June 15 edition of the West End Times.

* * *

One of the desktop sculptures that are on display – and on sale – at Montreal sculptor Gary Bernett’s open air kiosk in downtown Montreal is the saying “nothing is etched in stone.”

A rather catchy phrase that can apply to Bernett’s livelihood that has made him an internationally-renowned, award-winning sculptor. However, it also applies to a new chapter in his professional and personal life. After travelling across the United States to display and sell his works at some of the finest arts and crafts shows over the past 18 years, he decided to return to his Montreal roots.

“After so many years on the road, I wanted to stay closer to home, so I decided to come back to Montreal to work, enjoy the summer, be a parent and have a wonderful time doing so,” he told the Grapevine during a recent interview at his mobile display and kiosk, which is situated in front of Ogilvy’s department store on the corner of St. Catherine Street West and de la Montagne (right next to the famous Spoonman).

Bernett, who creates many of his relief sculptures at his Dollard-des-Ormeaux home as well as a workshop he owns, works primarily in marble and granite and each sculpture takes an average of two days to complete. “Sculpting takes a lot of patience and I find it quite therapeutic,” he added. “I focus so intensely on my work that I forget about everything else for that moment.”

His sculptures beautifully portray a wide variety of subjects, from Canadian wildlife, to Arctic scenes, to scenes from the Old and New Testaments, to traditional and national symbols (even the Canadian flag), to one of his best-known works, which portrays a circle of dancing children. He has also done commissioned works for the Montreal Expos, the Toronto Blue Jays (when they won the 1993 World Series, and is still on display at the Rogers Centre), the White House, for professional golf and tennis tournaments, as well as for major corporations and community organizations. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien even bought 12 of his Arctic scene sculptures when he hosted the G7 Summit in Halifax, and were presented as gifts to such world leaders as then-U.S. President Bill Clinton and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Raised in Ville St. Laurent, Bernett’s talent as a sculptor goes back to his grandfather and his father, who both worked as craftsmen at the legendary L. Berson & Son monument company on St. Laurent Boulevard. “In 1974, my dad once created a couple of sculptures there, and he brought them home and asked me ‘what do you think of this?’ He then did a couple of more pieces and sold them immediately, because people liked his work,” he said. “When I was 19, my dad asked me to work with him and by the age of 20, I knew I had something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

However, it was in 1979 that Bernett began to get wide recognition for his work thanks to former tennis champion Bjorn Borg, who won a Canadian major tennis tournament and Bernett was contracted to create the championship award. “Borg liked it so much, that he personally took it on the airplane with him back to Sweden; he wouldn’t let them ship it home,” he said. “Borg’s reaction to my piece helped to put me on the map, and I have never looked back since then.” Recently, he found a clipping from the Hamilton Spectator that was in his mother’s collection with a photo of Borg proudly displaying the sculpture; Bernett had it laminated and he proudly displays it at his kiosk (pictured at right).

Since he set up shop on St. Catherine and de la Montagne early last month (he lucked out when he applied to the City of Montreal for a permit, and discovered that this certain corner was available when his name was chosen by lottery), Bernett has been encouraged by the response he has been getting from passers-by, He has sold his relief sculptures of various sizes and subjects (which range in price from $49 to $225) not only to Montrealers, but also to tourists from Toronto, Calgary, New York, Boston, Michigan and Atlanta, and enjoys the personal interaction that he conducts with anyone whose interest is piqued by his display of eye-catching sculptures.

And the story behind his “nothing is etched in stone” sculpture? Bernett attributes it to a request – and a misunderstanding -- from a customer based in Philadelphia. “When that client asked me to create that sculpture, I thought he just wanted the word ‘nothing’ carved in stone,” he said. “So I did it in two colours and I sold it right away, and knew I had a winner. Since then, the ‘nothing is etched in stone’ sculpture has become an integral part of my display.”

Gary Bernett’s sculpture kiosk and display on the corner of St. Catherine Street West and de la Montagne is open -- weather permitting -- from 12 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. (Sunday to Wednesday) and 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. (Thursday to Saturday). 

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Night at the Fringe-For-All ... or How I Spent an Interesting Monday Night Watching Nearly 80 Acts in Three Hours

After the unforgettable experience I had last year covering the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival for the first time, I came to this year’s festival launch and Fringe-For-All program at Café Campus with the same sense of excitement and speculation of what to expect – and not to expect – from this year’s massive line-up.

First of all, festival director Amy Blackmore and interim general manager Al Lafrance welcomed the members of the media who gathered for a friendly 5 a 7 Fringe launch party at the Petit Campus venue, and presented brewer Peter McAuslan with the inaugural Peter McAuslan Award for Fringe philanthropy for his ongoing support towards making the Fringe Festival such a success year after year.

Immediately after the brief welcome and award ceremony, I had the opportunity to chat with Montreal actress Johanna Nutter (pictured at right), who was selected to be this year’s official spokesperson for the Fringe Festival, although she admitted that sometimes she is uncertain of what a spokesperson is supposed to do.

“A spokesperson welcomes people, so I guess I am in charge of being welcoming,” the lively Ms. Nutter told the Grapevine. “I think when you have someone from the outside sing the praises of the festival, it carries more weight. I am perfectly happy to sing the praises of the Fringe Festival.”

Ms. Nutter, who last year won the Cauchon D’Or Award for the best independent theatrical production in Quebec for the French version of her critically-acclaimed solo show “My Pregnant Brother”, will perform the show once again for one night only (June 10) at the Mainline Theatre at 7 p.m. (French) and 9 p.m. (English) as a benefit fundraiser. The proceeds from both performances that night will help her towards staging “My Pregnant Brother” at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer, where she will perform it at Edinburgh’s legendary Pleasance Theatre.

“Edinburgh is the core of the Fringe, and the chance to perform there is wonderful and very daunting, because of that possibility of performing the play in the best theatre in Edinburgh,” she said.

Ms. Nutter is practically a child of the Montreal Fringe, who has been involved with the festival since its beginnings in 1991, and has nothing but high praise for what the festival has done for her development as an actress and writer. “The Fringe Festival has showed me that I can build my own doors, and that I can write and perform in a show that I have created by myself,” she said. “The festival allowed me to have a sense of control and focus on being creative and create something that people will respond to, and help me towards making a living as an actor.”

At 6:45, we were escorted from the Petit Campus and head upstairs to Café Campus’ main venue, where we were about to experience the “Fringe-For-All”. This is basically the ultimate Fringe sampler, in about 80 local Fringe productions (in both French and English) gave the packed, raucous crowd a taste of what to expect from their respective productions … but at only two-minute snippets per show.

Helmed by the ever entertaining trio of Shane Adamczak, Cat Lemieux and Holly Gautheir-Frankel (aka “Miss Sugarpuss”), the “Fringe-For-All” provided a valuable service to the rookie and veteran Fringe goers of the scope of productions that will be featured during the two-week Fringe A to Z series; some of them were hilarious, some of them were curiously innovative and original, and some bordered on the “it-came-from-left-field” bizarre.

After witnessing all of the nearly 80 Fringe-For-All tidbits, here are some of the shows that caught my attention and will make my potential must-see list: “The Balding” (pictured above), “Racial Roulette”, “Now That I Have Your Attention”, “Beat The Percentages” (a satirical look at Mitt Romney’s political comeback, which is pictured ob the left), “Verbal Diarrhea”, “Made of Meat” (a high-octane dance show that is pictured below), “Annoying Visitor”, “Art-Chaut” and “Alex Cross and His Rise to Fame” (which has three alternate endings).

Finally, one thing that was quite prevalent during the Fringe-For-All was the plethora of promotional flyers, cards and gimmicks that many of the theatrical companies who are part of this year’s Fringe Festival were constantly handing out to us media people to get us to catch their respective shows. And then there were those companies who went the extra gimmicky mile to get our attention, such as “Talk, Mackerel”, which were handing out cupcakes with their promo cards (pictured above); “Cherry on Top!” in which the girl group trio Les Cherries handed out fresh cherries (pictured below ... notice the bowl of cherries at the foot of the singer in the middle); and “La Cravate Bleue”, which had their flyer wrapped around a condom.

Now that I have experienced my Fringe sampler during a lively, jammed packed night at Café Campus, it’s time to really study all the promo material that I was inundated with and make some strategic scheduling of the shows that I would like to catch and make my Fringe experience as interesting as last year. Let the Fringing begin!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Just For Laughs speaks the language of funny for its 31st edition

On May 23, organizers for the Just For Laughs comedy festival announced the lineup for its 31st edition at the Buonno Note restaurant on St. Laurent Boulevard … the same Buonno Note restaurant where the infamous “Pastagate” incident erupted.

Why they chose this certain venue to unveil their lineup is simple. In a time when language tensions have once again risen in Quebec, Just For Laughs wanted to prove that they speak one language and one language only: funny.

And after learning about the impressive selection of shows and comedians who will be plying their trade across the downtown core from July 10-28, I can readily say that comedy enthusiasts will be laughingly proclaiming “they’re speaking my language!”

Let’s start off with the flagship series of shows that have defined Just For Laughs since the beginning: the Videotron Galas. This year, they will be helmed by British comedy legend Eddie Izzard (July 24), who will commemorate the 20th anniversary of his festival debut by hosting a gala for the very first time; future “Late Night” host Seth Meyers (July 25); Sarah Silverman, who will host two all-star galas (July 27); and stand-up legend (and “Celebrity Apprentice” winner) Joan Rivers will be doing the talking on July 27 during a special matinee gala at 5 p.m.

And the ever-popular Club Series will once again present the series of stalwart shows that have attracted sold-out crowds to the venerable Club Soda and Metropolis, including the Ethnic Show hosted by Shaun Majumder (July 10-13 at Club Soda, July 26 and 27 at Metropolis), The Relationship Show hosted by last year’s breakout star Godfrey (July 17-20), The Bar Mitzvah hosted by comedy’s good Jewish boy Elon Gold (July 25) and of course, the always blue, always shocking Nasty Show, hosted by the Pitbull of Comedy himself Bobby Slayton, for two separate runs: July 17-20 at Club Soda, and July 24-27 at Metropolis.

And to make the Club Soda experience a little more interesting, Just For Laughs is offering for the Nasty, Ethnic and Relationship shows a chance to get much closer to the action with the "Sit In The Pit" package. For an extra $50 per person, fans get a private table right in front of the stage (and directly in the line of fire of the comics' barbs, zingers and insults), as well as VIP access to Club Soda.

Just For Laughs 31 will also mark the return of several comics who have quickly become festival favorites, such as Mark Maron (who will do a brand new stand up show on July 27, plus a live taping of his immensely popular podcast “WTF”); Amy Schumer (July 24); Danny Bhoy with a new solo show called “Dear Epson” (July 26 and 27); Hannibal Buress (July 24 and 25); Bo Burnham (July 25 and 26); and Colin Quinn, who will be performing his solo show “Unconstitutional” (July 25-27), as well as delivering the keynote address on the opening day of the Just For Laughs' ComedyPRO (formerly known as the Comedy Conference) on July 25.

And another Just For Laughs favorite who will be returning to the festival after a six-year absence is the duo of Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, who will bring three nights of original, unpredictable improv comedy to the Gesu from July 26-28.

For those who want to catch some of the brightest, most relevant comics today as they perform full-length shows in an intimate club setting, then don’t miss the brand new “Off-JFL Presented by Sirius XM” series, which will feature an impressive lineup of comedic talent including Maria Bamford (July 18-24), Todd Barry (July 22-26), Todd Glass (July 22-27), Montreal’s DeAnne Smith (July 22-24), Tig Notaro (July 23-27), Judah Friedlander (July 22-27) and “Set List” (July 23-25), an experimental show that I saw last year, in which comedians perform a routine based on a set list that’s presented to them just minutes before, and I found to be one of the highlights at last year’s festival. And best of all, the Off-JFL series offers the best value for your comedy buck, with tickets going for $20 each, or two shows for $30.

"Saturday Night Live" fans will not be disappointed at this year's Just For Laughs festival. Besides Seth Meyers hosting one of the Videotron Galas, SNL cast members Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan will be two of the three hosts (along with Kristen Schaal of "30 Rock" and "The Daily Show") of Just For Laughs' popular break star showcase "Talk of the Fest", which takes to the stage of Club Soda from July 23-26.

Finally, Just For Laughs will do its part to promote linguistic harmony in Quebec with Le Bilingual Show (July 23). Hosted by the fluently bilingual Quebecois comic Mike Ward, the show will feature a group of Francophone comics performing their sets in English; and in turn, several Anglophone comics (including Joey Elias) will take the stage and perform stand-up comedy in French. This is certainly a show that should get OQLF approval.

Stay tuned to my blog for further reports, reviews and interviews from Just For Laughs 31.

For more information about the lineup of this year’s Just For Laughs shows, or to purchase tickets, go to

Friday, May 10, 2013

23rd Montreal Fringe Festival announces line-up with a show of linguistic unity ... via bread products!

The 23rd edition of the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival celebrated the fact that it was a bilingual festival … through bread.

At a press conference that was held on May 6 at the Katacombes club to announce its 700 performance strong line-up, Fringe Festival organizers offered members of the media both French toast and English muffins to munch on, and gave them the artistic freedom to make their own linguistic-style creations (I made a French toast sandwich between two slices of English muffins, garnished with strawberries, apple slices and dried apricots, which is pictured at right). As well, festival director Amy Blackmore and interim general manager Al LaFrance did their part in promoting bilingual harmony by pureeing French toast and English muffins in a blender … with Al drinking the doughy concoction (and not feeling the worst for wear as a result).

From June 3-23, the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival will continue its mission of making theatre and performance art accessible to the general public, as well as promoting artistic freedom, diversity and open access, by respecting the integrity of the 111 artistic companies from North America and around the world who will be performing theatre, music, comedy and performance art at this year’s festival, as well as keeping ticket prices affordable to allow audiences to experience as much as possible what the festival has to offer.

“I grew up with the Fringe Festival. It allows people like me who make theatre to try and see what happens,” said Montreal actress Johanna Nutter (pictured above), who participated in the first Montreal Fringe Festival back in 1991 and is the official spokesperson for this year’s fest. In fact, she will be performing her solo show “My Pregnant Brother” on June 10 at the MainLine Theatre – in separate English and French performances – before she brings the play to the legendary Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

Besides the usual Fringe favorites, such as the Fringe-For-All launch event on June 3 at Café Campus (in which the casts of practically every show perform a series of two-minute previews for the audience), the Fringe A –Z, the “13th Hour” late night series of shows and the constant string of activities at Fringe Park (aka “the Beer Tent”) on the corner of St. Laurent and Rachel, this year’s Fringe Festival will also offer these interesting highlights: the first ever Kids Fringe series of shows and activities (June 16 and 23), the “Fringe Fake Prom”, followed by “No Sleep Till Waffles”, in which the Fringe crew will serve post-prom waffles (June 7), and “Pierrot and the Moon”, a puppet show performed by the Rosy Cheeks Coop, who is making their first appearance at the Montreal Fringe Fest in 21 years (June 15-17, 19, 22 and 23).

It's no easy task to plow through the festival's impressive, voluminous press kit filled with flyers, press releases and promotional materials about many of the English and French language shows that will be featured. However, after carefully studying its contents during a two hour period following the press conference, I managed to zero in on a few shows that I plan to catch (and review) during this year's Fringe Fest: Acme Burlesque (June 6), The Balding (June 15-17, 19, 21 and 22), Paraphilia: Everyone Has A Sexual Disorder (June 14, 15, 18, 21-23), We are Fish ... Elvis is Water (June 15-17, 20-22), Verbal Diarrhea: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Bomb at Love (June 14, 16, 17, 21-23), Now That I Have Your Attention! (June  13, 15, 18, 20-23), Jess Salomon: Obsession (June 14-16, 18, 19, 21-23), and Zack Adams: Zack to the Future (June 14-16, 18, 20, 22 and 23). 

...And believe me, this is just scratching the surface!

Stay tuned to future blog posts next month for coverage of the sights, sounds and shows of the 23rd St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival (minus the bread products). For more information about the more than 700 Fringe shows, go to

Friday, April 19, 2013

Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors holds another successful Sports Celebrity Breakfast

Over 600 sports fans of all ages enjoyed a Sunday morning meeting their favorite Montreal sports figures past and present, as the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors (CJCS) held its 9th annual Sports Celebrity Breakfast on April 14 at the Gelber Conference Centre on Westbury Avenue.

The event, which was sold out for months beforehand, raised over $180,000 to benefit the CJCS’ Seniors in Crisis program, which provides a valuable service by giving much needed assistance to seniors who are unable to look after themselves on a financial basis, which makes sure that they live their golden years with a sense of independence and a high quality of life.

And everyone in attendance were not disappointed with the number and caliber of personalities who appeared at the breakfast. First there was NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr (pictured above), who received the Sports Personality of the Year Award for his “inspiring contribution to the sport of hockey," especially how he managed to end the players' lockout earlier this year and salvaged the 2012-2013 NHL season.  When asked about his trademark cool, calm demeanour, Fehr glibly replied "I've been accused many times of not having a personality!"

The 1993 Stanley Cup champion Canadiens team were honoured at the breakfast, and former coach Senator Jacques Demers, plus players Oleg Petrov, Mathieu Schneider and Sergio Momesso were in attendance to reflect back on that exciting playoff run 20 springs ago. And Demers expressed his confidence with this year's Habs squad, and their chances to finally win the franchise's 25th Stanley Cup. "The Habs are on the right track. They have the best defenceman around in P.K. Subban. But it starts with goaltending, and if Carey price stands up a la Patrick Roy in 1993, then their chances are good to win the Cup."

Montreal businessman Roy Salomon was this year’s Guest of Honour for his outstanding contribution and leadership to the development of Maccabi Canada. The Brooklyn native (and a member of the Duke Blue Devils basketball team), Salomon moved to Montreal in 1960 and got involved with the Canadian Maccabi team in 1969, when he was part of its basketball squad. He now plans to be part of the Canadian Maccabi delegation, along with 9000 other athletes at this summer's Maccabiah Games in Israel. "I don't remember an occasion when we weren't proud of our athletes," commented Salomon during his lengthy -- yet heartfelt -- acceptance speech at the breakfast.
Also seen at the breakfast were Anthony Calvillo and Scott Florey from the Alouettes;  former Hab Mathieu Darche; legendary broadcaster (and fellow classic film buff) Dick Irvin; Cy Young Award winning pitcher Eric Gagne; former Expos Warren Cromartie (pictured at right, who was selling and autographing t-shirts containing the logo of the Montreal Baseball Project, an organization he is heading that is trying to bring back a Major League Baseball team to Montreal) and Bill “Spaceman” Lee (pictured above left); TSN 690’s Ted Bird; legendary Gazette sportswriter Red Fisher; former Alouette Peter Dalla Riva (pictured above right); Bob Babinsky of the new City Montreal TV station, along with George Athans (who will be producing City Montreal’s new sports show “Montreal Connected”, which is slated to air later this spring ... I worked with George when he was a sportscaster for CBC Montreal's supper hour newscast "Newswatch" 30 years ago); and Sportsnet reporter Alyson Lozoff (who will also be reporting for "Montreal Connected"; both are pictured below).

The breakfast had plenty of highlights (including a video praising Roy Salomon's contributions to the Montreal sports scene from much beloved Habs Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau ... a hush fell over the packed ballroom when he began speaking). One highlight that practically every attendee tried to take advantage of was having their pictures taken with three of the NHL's top trophies: the Prince of Wales and Conn Smythe trophies and of course, the Stanley Cup. And believe me, when you find yourself standing next to these highly regarded pieces of NHL hardware, you can't resist the opportunity to have a picture of yourself posing alongside them, as if you just won one of those treasured awards (hence the picture of me below with two of the three trophies ... the Stanley Cup was located at the other end of the room!).

And finally, kudos to the breakfast's planning committee (lead by co-chairs Mike Wagen and Bram Naimer) for planning another topnotch events that the 600 local sports fans enjoyed immensely, and for the many seniors who will greatly benefit from living a dignified life thanks to the proceeds that were raised from the event.