November is the month for arts in Madrid

Two major festivals in Madrid this month are enough to keep any culture lover happy.

The first and biggest is the Festival de Otoño, an annual extravaganza of theater, dance, music, and even a trio of circuses. The plays are all in Spanish, but dance and music are universal languages so you can still enjoy this festival even if you don’t speak the the local lingo. The styles lean towards the modern and experimental, like the theater/dance fusion of the Belgian production Isabella’s Room about an old blind antiquities collector recounting a life lived through the highs and lows of the Twentieth century, or the multinational collaboration of Whale Watching Tour that fuses avant-garde experimental and folk music. One show to watch out for is The New Vietnamese Circus, which will portray life in a traditional village through juggling, acrobatics, martial arts, and music.

Another cultural highlight this month is the XXVI Festival de Jazz de Madrid. Jazz in Madrid? Yep, while it’s not as famous as Chicago or New Orleans, jazz is big here and there are a lot of cool venues that will be pulling out all the stops for this, the biggest annual jazz festival in Spain. There will be dozens of concerts at clubs around the city featuring artists playing all styles of jazz.

The Festival de Otoño runs from November 4-29. The XXVI Festival de Jazz de Madrid runs November 4-28.

Christians protest transssexual Jesus

A play in Glasgow, Scotland, has sparked an angry protest by local Christians. Jesus Queen of Heaven depicts Jesus as a transsexual woman and is part of the Glasgay! Festival celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered culture.

The festival, which runs through November 8, features plays, music, dance, comedy, and many other events and has drawn artists from around the world. The annual festival has been held since 1993, attracts more than 20,000 visitors, and receives partial funding from national and municipal arts councils.

While gay arts festivals and the inevitable protests against them are nothing new, Jesus Queen of Heaven has drawn special ire. The play, written and performed by leading transgendered artist Jo Clifford, looks at her personal path to faith as a transgendered person.

The description of the play begins, “Jesus is a transsexual woman. And it is now she walks the earth. This is a play with music that presents her sayings, her miracles, and her testimony. And she does not condemn the gays or the queers or the trans women or the trans men, and no, not the straight women nor the straight men neither. Because she is the Daughter of God, most certainly, and almost as certainly the son also. And God’s child condemns nobody. She can only love…”

About 300 Christians, on the other hand, felt differently. They held a candlelight vigil outside the Tron Theatre last night, holding signs protesting the use of public funds for the festival and Clifford’s depiction of Jesus. One read “God: My Son Is Not A Pervert.” It is not clear if the sign was written by the protester or was a direct quote from the Almighty.

If November sounds like a bad time to go to Scotland, there’s always Pride Scotia in June, a ten-day national LGBT event that culminates in a massive parade in Edinburgh. If you really want make sure you’ll be partying in the sun, head south to Madrid, where the Orgullo (“Pride”) festival is held in the toasty months of late June and early July.

A Canadian in Beijing: Theatre of Possibility

George and I walked through the Forbidden City gardens en route to the Forbidden City Concert Hall and I was struck by the history in the trees. They twisted up and around as though the weight of the stories that they held had bent their limbs, contorting them towards the sky. The grounds were lush and colourful with flowers of all kinds and beautiful stone walkways beneath my fancy shoes.

We were en route to a concert by a famous Greek artist named Alkistis Protopsalti, a thirty-year veteran of the music business. This concert was billed as the event representing thirty-five years of diplomatic relations between Greece and The People’s Republic of China.

We manoeuvred the twists and turns of the passageways, George all the while checking our directions from the various guards or people strolling in the gardens. He speaks choppy street Chinese filled with many colloquial expressions that make people open their faces in wide grins and help us without question. I marvelled at his ability to “chat” with people and his facility with Mandarin, but I suppose that comes from seven years of consistently coming here, singing songs in Chinese, Greek, French and English and building his career as Chairman George.
George and I have become friends quickly and I’m sure that’s because we are two Canadian musicians who are both in love with China and the Chinese culture. We are mirror images, in a way, and we spoke about our feelings for China with a similar reverence. He said that his life back home is a bit like living in a fish tank whereas China is his ocean. Coming here, he slips into a freedom that feels like a homecoming. I can relate. Not so much about the fish tank back home, but about the freedom and the sense of homecoming. I love the analogy anyhow and I have thought of it several times since then.

We arrived at the theatre to a bustling crowd of diplomats, foreigners, Chinese business people and a vibrant arts community mingling outside of the theatre entrance. George was recognized by a few people (he has performed extensively in Beijing, including in this theatre!) who immediately greeted us and exchanged “ming pian” (business cards) with him. (Mental Note: I need business cards and I shall make them this week.) George introduced me to several events producers who were very intrigued by my Chinese language skills and my performance career. He has provided me with their contact information for my next trip. (This was already proving to be another “guanxi” opportunity!)

We met up with our mutual friend Zou Rui who also brought another friend of hers (Chun Jia) who is also a singer here in China. We all went inside. The place was nearly full (and the theatre holds 1400 people) and when we walked in to the concert hall itself, we were ushered to the second floor balcony where we had back row seats and a perfect view of the stage. I would imagine that there are no bad seats in this stunning venue and I snapped a few photos of the layout before being politely reminded that it was against the rules to take pictures during the show. I wondered how they would police this as there were several digital cameras in people’s hands and here in China it is almost unheard of to restrict photographs! Still, I heeded the request (for the most part!).

Alkistis Protopsalti is an amazing performer and her band was made up of extremely talented musicians. The arrangements were excellent and they put on an energetic, engaging show almost entirely in Greek. At the end of the night, she took the audience from appreciative to a place of adoration when she sang a very well known contemporary song in Chinese: “Yue Liang Dai Biao Wode Xin” or “The Moon Represents My Heart” but Teresa Teng or Deng LiJun (her Chinese name), a very famous Chinese singer. The place went wild and cheered for a good 30 seconds straight when she began the song, to the point where she was forced to stop and then start the song over again. I have found this kind of excitement unusual in Chinese audiences; they are normally so polite and reserved. They truly fell in love with her in this moment! Music may be the universal language, but having some Chinese skills makes a huge difference.

After the concert, there was a reception and much of the audience stayed and mingled some more while drinking complimentary wine and other beverages and eating various Greek snacks that were being circulated around by waitresses holding wide trays. More “guanxi” happened here and George was amazing at working the crowd and introducing me to whomever he met. I really appreciated it.

When the crowd started to dissipate and Zou Rui’s friend had to leave, the three of us decided to head for some “yexiao” or “night snacks” and we ended up at a restaurant where Zou Rui insisted I drink some hot ginger cola for my cough (actually coke and ginger heated together and served like tea). I was disgusted by the idea but agreed to try it because this lingering cough is just annoying to me and everyone else, I’m sure. It was pretty tasty, actually, and I dutifully drank it down and ate as much food as I could to fuel my full recovery from this cold. The three of us laughed a lot and had a great talk and before I realized the time. It was 12:30am and I was exhausted.

We all parted ways with lots of love and smiles. I came back to my room, finally took off those uncomfortable shoes and reflected on the night of many emotions and incredible opportunities.

Possibility is sometimes so visible that it seems to have a form and a shape just standing next to me. This evening was one of those times. It followed me around like a protective older sibling. Had I turned and snapped a photo, I’m sure I would have trapped its light in my lens.

As clear as the stories in the trees, as history in stones, love in smiles.


I see you.

You Too Can Be On Broadway!

Earlier this week I wrote about Broadway’s surprising focus on plays for the upcoming season — but there’s one musical that is a must-see for every tourist with stars in their eyes.

For $31.50 you can buy a ticket at the new rock musical, Spring Awakening, that puts you in the middle of the action — on stage with the performers.

According to Jo Piazza of the New York Daily News, who recently experienced the production for himself, “Members of the cast sit in chairs right next to you and during the show, they stomp and sing inches away from your face. It’s enough to make even the most karaoke-impaired person want to reach over, grab a microphone and wail on one of the songs by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater.”

Tempting as it may be, disrupting the show with your own impromptu performance is strongly, strongly discouraged — both before the performance, and again at intermission. In fact, just to further minimize interruptions, the theatre makes you remove all personal belongings (coats, hats, phones, purses) and keep them in a locker for the duration of the show.

That being said, it’s sure to be a memorable experience for anyone drawn to the stage. Make sure to book your tickets well in advance though — as, with only 26 seats available, they can be fairly tough to come by.

Theatre Lovers In For An Interesting Spring On Broadway

Spring is traditionally a busy time on Broadway, but this year, the United States’ most revered commercial theatre institution is offering something a little different. Instead of focusing solely on new musicals — long the mainstay of big-budget New York theatre — it seems that this season it’s plays generating all the excitement.

Starting in May, the more discerning live performance connoisseur can chose from revivals starring the likes of Kevin Spacey, Christopher Plummer, Brian Dennehy and Liev Schreiber. According to Howard Sherman, executive director of the American Theatre Wing, “After many years of hearing that plays on Broadway are a dying breed, the combination of star-driven productions, British imports, and the touring success of Twelve Angry Men, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Doubt, is demonstrating that there is an appetite, and a commercially viable model, for dramatic theater.”

I was a theatre major in college, so I’m a big dork when it comes to stuff like this. My pick of the season is the revival of Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio. The script is hysterical, and, by all accounts, Bogosian was fantastic as the central character when the show first ran in 1987. Now, with Liev Schreiber in the lead, it can only get more awesome.

Whether you’re a theatre-lover or not, New York is a great Spring destination, as it’s gorgeous that time of year. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and all the people seem so tired of being cold, lonely, and stuck in their apartments that they’re friendlier than you might expect.