Saturday, January 11, 2014

Short story collection shows another literary side to veteran Montreal TV newscaster

After It Rains by Bill Haugland (Vehicule Press, $18)

For years, Bill Haugland honed his skills as a writer and storyteller, mainly as a reporter for CFCF’s suppertime newscast “Pulse”, and later as its anchorman. However, while he became a master news storyteller, Haugland was also trying to develop his skills as a storyteller of a different nature, mainly fictional stories.

When he retired from telling new stories several years ago, Haugland decided that instead of going the traditional route of writing a trenchcoat memoir of his life as a TV newsman, he used his TV news background as a premise for a novel. In fact, he turned it into two novels about the goings on of a mythical TV news operation in Montreal during the late 60s and early 70s, Mobile 9 and The Bidding.

For his third foray into fiction writing, Haugland decided to dig through a dusty old box that was stored in his Vermont home that was filled with story ideas and short stories that were started but remained unfinished. So with a lot of discipline and his knack for telling a story, Haugland went back to many of those stories and completed them. The end result is his first short story collection After it Rains.

The book is a collection of 14 short stories of varying themes and narratives that don’t solely rely on his past experiences in TV news. In fact, it deals with several examples of the human experience, whether it be realistic, fantastic or humoristic. Haugland’s purpose in telling these stories is to show the reader what these experiences are like from the point of view of the people who are taking part in it or being affected by it.

For example, there is the experience of a quirky family planning a carrying out a bank robbery (“Family Finances”); confessing to a murder while on death row (“A Confession”); how a simple object can release a tale of survival during the Holocaust (“The Photograph”); the wild, hustle and bustle world of the TV news stringer during the late 60s (“Stringer”, in which the mythical station CKCF from Haugland’s previous two books figures prominently in this story); and how an inherited 1943 U.S. penny turns into something more for the lonely grandson whom it’s handed down to (“The Wishing Jar”).

Haugland shows that he does have the knack for crafting and developing a quite readable fictional short story. In fact, he even knows how to develop a good plot twist that will throw quite a curve to the reader. Case in point, “41 Ward B”, a story of two elderly patients who reside in the Alzheimer’s ward of a rehab center. Although their rantings and states of mind could be attributed to their deteriorating mental condition, the ending is quite surprising (for the better) and leaves the reader with a “wow!” reaction.

After it Rains is an enjoyable collection of diverse short stories from someone who spent his career telling the public true stories on a daily basis for over 40 years. And after so many years of telling the news, it’s refreshing to see that Bill Haugland can effectively craft a series of 15-20 page works of fiction. Basically, he just cemented his new career as a writer of good fiction. Hopefully, the trenchcoat memoir won’t be so far behind, too.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

"American Idiot" A Raw, Energetic Production

The Evenko group got 2014 off to a raw, energetic start at Place des Arts, as the national touring company of "Green Day's American Idiot" started a brief two-day, three-performance run at PDA until tomorrow (Jan. 5).

This ground-breaking, Tony Award-winning Broadway musical does for the post 9/11 generation what "Hair" did for the 60s and "Rent" did for the 90s.

Using the songs from Green Day's landmark album of the same name, the show expresses the dreams, angst and hopes of three young men during the early 2000s -- Johnny, Turry and Will -- as they trek to the big city in search of their own sense of self-menaing and fulfillment in a rather cynical, harsh world. However, their respective journeys face unexpected obstacles, mainly early parenthood, drugs and the war in Iraq.

The young ensemble cast -- who are most resplendent in their uniform of that generation (torn jeans, t-shirts and hoodies) give raw, intense performances (which are exemplified by the riveting dance numbers, which are sort of a post-9/11 equivalent to what was done in "West Side Story"). They sing and dance their hearts out as they brazenly channel the deep rooted cynicism of the youths of that period.

The audience that were present at the Saturday matinee opening performance of "American Idiot" greeted each musical number with wild enthusiasm (it even got to the point that they even wildly applauded several of the numbers after hearing the first few notes being played, which is a testament to how familiar many of the audience members are with the album). The multi-media warehouse set with the multiple video screens and flashing lights are used to its fullest extent to signify the grittiness of the post-9/11 world. And the live onstage band that provided the loud, energetic musical accompaniment was excellent; it was almost like going to a Broadway show ... and a rock concert broke out!

Also, the cast, for an encore, gave the audience a special treat, in which each member was given an acoustic guitar and harmoniously sang "Time of Your Life", which is probably Green Day's most recognized song.

Although I was never a devoted follower of Green Day and their music, after seeing "American Idiot" onstage, it effectively showed me how the 9/11 terrorist attacks deeply affected the youth of that period who tried to find their own way during a very complex time in recent history. Also, if Evenko continues to present more original, out-of-the-ordinary Broadway productions to Montreal, I look forward to see what they have in store for its theatregoers in 2014.

If you want to purchase remaining tickets for the Jan. 5 performance of "American Idiot", go to the Place des Arts box office, or online at, or