Category Archives: writing

Great Scot! What You Should Know about Robbie Burns

People all over the world celebrate Robbie Burns Day today. Burns wrote an ode to a mouse (which I blogged homage a few years ago) and an address to a haggis, but what is the source of the man’s immortal appeal? According to a BBC documentary, “Robert Burns achieved more with his poetry than any writer since Shakespeare.” In celebration of his 258th birthday, let’s consider some questions about the freedom-loving Scottish bard.

Robbie Burns, the greatest Scotsman of all time

Robbie Burns, the greatest Scotsman of all time

  1. Is Robert Burns the greatest Scot of all time? Yes, according to a 2009 survey of STV viewers. Not bad, considering he was up against the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J.K. Rowling, Andrew Carnegie, Sir Alexander Fleming, Sir William Wallace, Annie Lennox and Sir Sean Connery.
  2. What language did Burns use? Burns said of English, “I have not that command of the language that I have of my native tongue.” Scots, his native tongue, is not “funny-sounding English;” it is a language that developed alongside and eventually separately from English.
  3. Didn’t he play for the Chicago Blackhawks? Yes, yes he did.
  4. With a name like Burns, was he a destructive force? Well let’s see. A few days after his birth, Jan. 25, 1759, a storm tears apart his home. Next thing you know, the composer Handel dies. A few months later, General Wolfe dies on the Plains of Abraham. Less than 20 years after that, the American Revolution. Then the French are storming the Bastille and heads are rolling. But look what happens when Burns dies in 1796, whaddaya know, suddenly the Americans and the Ottoman Empire are shaking hands over the Treaty of Tripoli, and everybody calms down.
  5. What did he wear under his kilt? Burns was forever kiltless, because during his lifetime it was illegal to wear a kilt! You know Robbie Burns would have supported Idle No More!
  6. What’s taking so long for Gerard Butler to get his Robert Burns movie made? Well, come on; they just made a movie about Robbie Burns in 1930. Isn’t it a bit soon to be making another one?
  7. This guy’s good. Where can I see him in Toronto? There’s a statue of “the Ploughman Poet” on the east side of Allan Gardens. If you see people in kilts reading poetry around that area today, that’s where the statue is.

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I’ve Been at the Theatre

Take a look at what I’ve seen so far this month:

Theatre Review: Yukonstyle at Berkeley Street Theatre

The most intensely Canadian play you are likely to see, Yukonstyle is not sentimental or didactic; it is a deep gaze into the soul of Canada. And it’s not just for Canadians. It’s being staged this year not only in Montreal and Toronto, but also in Paris, Brussels, Innsbruck and Heidelberg. Packed with Canadian context but devoid of cliché, Yukonstyle would be compelling fiction, yet much of the content is taken from too-soon-forgotten news reports and too-readily-dismissed police investigations. Over the past two decades, 600 native women in Canada have disappeared or been murdered.

On a cold Yukon night, with the gruesome details of the Robert Pickton trial unfolding on television, a rebellious and entitled white anglo teenage girl hitchhikes into the lives of a Japanese immigrant and her roommate who is tormented by questions about his native mother who disappeared from Vancouver when he was two.

English language premiere runs until October 27th.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Yukonstyle-at-Berkeley-Street-Theatre/

 

Theatre Review: Venus In Fur

Based on the 1870 erotic novel Venus in Furs by Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from whose name is derived the word “masochist”, David Ives’ 2010 play Venus in Fur is a sex-charged gender politics comedy bridging the 19th and 21st centuries. It’s like Oleanna meets Pygmalion meets Dan Savage meets bell hooks. Closing October 27th.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Venus-In-Fur/

 

Theatre Review: The Best Brothers

Daniel MacIvor’s latest play continues at Tarragon Theatre until October 27th. When a couple of very different brothers learn their mother has died, they have to find a way to deal with each other, and her dog. You can tell it’s a comedy because the death comes at the beginning rather than at the end.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-The-Best-Brothers/

Theatre Review: Les Misérables

Les Misérables! Again? Isn’t that so 25 years ago? And yet, themes from Victor Hugo’s epic story — the Law versus the People, the 99 per cent versus the powers that be — continue to be reflected in the news. Do you see a parallel between the barricade in Les Mis and the G20 barricade? Do you hear the people sing, “Idle No More?” Even if not, the music keeps the audience coming back. Canada’s Iranian-born Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean is worth the price of admission.

This gritty new rendition of the world’s longest-running musical, with physicality in the performances evoking, more than previous productions, the brutality of the epoch and the story, has no gigantic Lazy Susan rotating the set and actors, which was a pivotal feature of the previous productions. Now the performers are the spectacle.

Read my full review at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/October-2013/Theatre-Review-Les-Misrables-at-Princess-of-Wales-Theatre/

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CBC Radio Interview About My Play Father Hero Traitor Son

Father Hero Traitor Son
“Would you strike your father?” “Would you hang your son?” Photo by Elizabeth Sawatzky
From the CBC website:
“The Fundy Fringe Festival Opened This Week”

Evan Andrew Mackay is a playwright and actor who’s home from Toronto to stage his new play Father Hero, Traitor Son.

http://www.cbc.ca/informationmorningsaintjohn/2013/08/23/the-fundy-fringe-festival-opened-this-week/

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Premiere Turns Out to Be 71st Anniversary

A chilling discovery in my ongoing research for my play “Father Hero Traitor Son” which is to premiere in a few hours, on August 21.

My play refers to an escape attempt by four Canadian POWs; and while drafting a dedication I was looking up their full names, and discovered the date of their ill-fated escape attempt.

“On Friday, August 21st, 1942, four members of our group escaped from North Point including Sgt. John Payne H6016, L/Cpl. George Berzenski H6700, Pte. John Adams H6294 and Pte. Percy Ellis H6771 .” http://www.hkvca.ca/historical/accounts/williambell/chapter5.htm

Seventy-one years to the day. Let us remember them.

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One Final Blog Post About My New Play

Father Hero Traitor Son is opening on Wednesday, so I probably won’t do another blog post before then. By the end of the month, I hope to resume regular blogging on Good Evaning.

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/a-piece-of-history-on-stage/

Father Hero Traitor Son poster by Tim Maloney

 

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My New Play: Father Hero Traitor Son

New play, new blog!

The play and the blog are in progress. Please, read the blog, tolerate the self-promotion, and get ready to see the play at the Fundy Fringe Festival in Saint John, NB, August 21 to 25!

http://fatherherotraitorson.wordpress.com/about/

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

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Casting Around for the Fringe

While spending the winter in my hometown Saint John, New Brunswick, I was doing research for my new play, Father Hero Traitor Son. Pondering how and where I might stage this historical drama, I wondered about the possibility of starting a theatre festival in Saint John, maybe even a Fringe festival. I thought, “That’ll never happen, or at least no time soon.” I came back to Toronto and theatre friends asked me if I was going to enter the new Fringe Festival in Saint John. I said, “!???!??!?” And so it was, and so I did. http://www.fundyfringefestival.com

Fundy Fringe Festival 2013

Almost the only thing Father Hero Traitor Son has in common with the play I co-wrote and performed in at Toronto Fringe 2012, Eat, Poo, Love, is that it is based on real people and events.

Eat Poo Love review

Typical review of Eat Poo Love

Father Hero Traitor Son is about a decorated Canadian hero of the First World War, who had immigrated from Japan to British Columbia in 1905, and his son—born and raised in Kamloops—who was in Japan when World War Two broke out. At the end of the war, the son was on trial for war crimes.

This is a play about choices, fate, and identity. What defines a person as a Canadian, a hero, a traitor, a father, a son?

One might say it is audacious for a hakujin such as myself to write a play about complex sensitive issues central to Japanese-Canadian identity. To a certain extent it is an audacious undertaking. However, I am doing so at the suggestion of, and with input from, a direct descendant of the characters depicted, and furthermore, I am a Canadian writing about Canadians, and I am a son writing about father and son. (I did not take my research so far as to have a son.)

Father Hero Traitor Son will go into rehearsal in July. It will premiere in Saint John from August 21 to 25, and I am currently in Toronto. Rehearsals will happen either in Toronto or Saint John, depending where I find actors to play the lead roles:

  • male, 50s, issei (Japanese immigrant to Canada), speaks with Japanese accent
  • male, 31, nissei (Canadian son of Japanese immigrants), native English speaker

As time is short and the land is wide, I am asking auditioners to contact me as soon as possible so we can communicate by Skype or by submitting a video.

Please post your questions, suggestions or comments below, or contact me by email: evanwrites (at) gmail (dot) com

The Fundy Fringe Festival is looking for volunteers. Please help make this inaugural festival a success! http://www.fundyfringefestival.com/volunteers.html

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Everyone Talk: The Language Blog That Has Everyone Talking

Just over two years ago, I started blogging. I was going to have one blog with three sections: humour, languages, and generally causing trouble (yeah, take that, corporate overlords). But I remembered the adage, “Don’t put all your obsessions in one basket.” So I set languages aside for later. Now is later.

Good Evaning, the blog that is the change I want to see in the world, is a thriving two-year-old, so I now turn to my second born (which we all know is always the best). Everyone Talk, “The Language Blog That Has Everyone Talking”, has been sitting there in cyberspace almost completely ignored for 23 months (as often happens to second children).

International Phonetic Alphabet chart of English sounds

International Phonetic Alphabet

Everyone Talk came out of hibernation in the first hour (in some time zone) of this month and has been up and running like a gazelle ever since. If you are one of those people who communicate through language, please sift through my blog posts on Everyone Talk, leave some comments, questions, suggestions, corrections, or smutty photos, and please don’t consider not subscribing to Everyone Talk.

Why am I doing this and why should you care? It is my profound belief that the vast majority of human unhappiness can be resolved through effective communication, especially listening. And even if not, it’s fun as hell to be able to talk with people from all over the world and read their ideas, news and literature in their beautiful and fascinating languages.

Most often, I will write in English — about English, about other languages, and about all things relating to second-language acquisition and communication in general — but periodically I will write in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese, and I may dip into other languages occasionally. If you can’t read things I’ve written in Korean or Japanese, it is the fault of your computer which can easily be adjusted to make those texts readable. If after that you still can’t read those scripts, what needs to be adjusted is your attitude towards language learning, a problem easily corrected by subscribing to Everyone Talk! language settings for Microsoft

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Solitude and Scribbling in My Writing Cave

Snowy stairs up to my writing cave

A Writing Cave in Winter

Weeks have piled up into months since I escaped the necessary evil that is Toronto. Here in New Brunswick, looking down from the window of my second-story writing cave onto the snows and thaws of the tree-walled lawn where I learned to ride a bicycle, indeed where I first learned to mumble, chatter, yell and sing in my mother tongue, I consider that the number of hours I spend each day in writing, reading, corresponding and editing is greater than the number of people I have spoken with in person more than once since I arrived here in mid-December. I have crossed paths with more deer and rodents than bipeds.

View of my snowy acre from the window of my second-story writing cave

My Writing Cave: A Room of One’s Own With a View

This semi-exile is a boon to my productivity (and piano playing), but the menu of stimuli to which I am exposed—though excellent—is sparse. In the neighbourhood I left in Toronto, I could walk in less than 10 minutes to my choice of half a dozen live music venues (including, importantly, first-rate jazz on an almost daily basis); a dozen Japanese or Korean restaurants, three each of Indian, Lebanese, Thai and Vietnamese; three new and used bookstores and a library to which I can have delivered any of a million books, DVDs and CDs; as well as swim in a public pool, go to my favourite repertory cinema, visit the dentist, do all banking, grocery shopping and other errands; and, most significant for me, meet with groups of native speakers of French, Spanish, Portuguese, American Sign Language, Korean or Japanese; or step onto the subway for access to ten times as many possibilities. Taking my New Brunswick writing cave as a point of departure, a 10 hour drive would scarcely bring the majority of such options within reach.

Fortunately, this is an era which enables me to make do with online substitutions for a number of these amenities, such as certain manifestations of language practice and films. However, such substitutions are not the same thing as being there, in that place where there is every day too much to do, where to partake of one golden opportunity causes you to miss out on several others.

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. Hitting huge log with heavy axe

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy. (I did split this sucker!)

And yet, my writing cave lets me work with loud music on at 03h00; it lets me leap out of bed before dawn or crawl out at noon, depending on what the muse whispers to me in the morning or demanded of me the night before. The writing cave leaves me space — indoors and out (and psychologically as well as physically) — to start every day by doing my thumpy, jumpy, kicky taekwondo forms, or to contend with insomnia by pounding it out on the heavy bag in the garage below. It shows me the moon and the sun through its skylight; its windows like big-screen TVs show me snowfall, windstorms or chirping birds and meandering deer over a sun-glazed acre of land which is mine to neglect, maintain, or run and roll around on. Below my window, I can chop wood from a wind-felled tree, soak off the wholesome grime in my claw-foot bathtub, and then sit with my father by his fire discussing how the Romans could have saved their empire if only they had listened to us, or learn how to speak toddler-ese when my niece drops by, until a bottle of the world’s finest wine has breathed long enough and we gather to feast on local, organic, fair trade, free-run moose.

The Writer at Work. Splitting a log

The Writer at Work

The world-famous city I was born in vs. the agreeably overlooked town I grew up in. Like moving and resting, waking and sleeping, getting dirty and bathing, an excess of one makes you wish for the other. Plainly, (unless I find a home* some other where), I must divide my months between the polis and the outpost.

*Home is where I hang my hat. Home is where I hang around. Home is where I hang out. Home is where I let it all hang out. Home is where I hang my head. Home is where I hang myself. Home is where I feel that I am myself, and that is not a place, it is a state of mind that comes more frequently and stays longer in some places than in others. “Wherever you go, there you are.”

My Snowy Acre of Tree-Walled Lawn

My Snowy Acre

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Oh, Mousie, Not Your Best-Laid Scheme. A Burns’ Day Tale, Sad But True

Too a Mouse

On Lifting up My Toilet Seat Last Sunday Morning, January, 2013

Wee, sleeket, soggy, floatin’ beastie,
Panic’s no more in thy breastie.
Thou shouldn’a jump’d in there sae hasty,
Wi’out floatation!
Had I but heard, I’d come an’ save thee,
From wet damnation!

I’m truly sorry human plumbing,
Unsuited to your way of coming,
Did lead to your most sad succumbing,
— that hinge-side gap —
and brought you to an end so numbing,
Last words? “Oh, crap!”

Thy attic fam’ly, now, in ruin;
They must be wond’rin what you’re doin’!
An’ no one, now, to feed the sma’ ones
Wi’ nibbles thieved.
An’ January’s snows keep blowin.
Thou shouldst ha’ lived!

If caref’ler foresight you did give,
What then? poor beastie, thou wouldst live!
Instead, kin scan the will for your bequest.
Or did you nothing leave?
Och, they’ll be pissed!

Thou walked the loo, (that’s for my wast),
An’ in you fell. Mistake? Your last.
An’ in the bowl you paddled fast;
Must ha’ been hell.
No splash! You scrambled till you passed.
Tough luck. Oh well.

Thou wee-bit heap o’fur an’ bubble,
Thy end, clearly, more sad than noble.
Now thou’s done in, for a’ thy trouble,
O mouse, so bold.
Now Mousie Jr’s strife is double;
Mouse Sr’s cold!

But Mousie, thou need na complain,
You’ll ne’er make that misstep again.
The best lid-schemes for toilets, then,
Are not mouse-proof.
But now you’re past your grief an’ pain,
Thou careless goof.

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
For now, each time I go to pee,
Or poo, I backward cast my e’e,
Ere dropping rear!
Faced forward, whyles I canna see,
I guess, an’ fear!

Robert Burns

Robert Burns

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