Hot desks! Get your hot desks here …

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I rent a desk at the Centre for Social Innovation at Queen and Spadina. It’s an amazing space chock a block full of interesting organizations and people working here such as Spacing Magazine, Remarkk!, VoCA and the Creative Trust.

The space is incredibly community oriented (anyone can come on up to the 4th floor and grab a cup of organic coffee with organic milk and sugar), relax on the couches or book one of the many board rooms for free. They’ve even created a health plan for us tenants here so those of us who work alone have the chance to be healthy without paying an arm and a leg. I especially enjoy being surrounded by so many eco-friendly, design oriented, like-minded people whom I can turn to at any given moment and ask for assistance with a question, grab a bite to eat with, or share an interesting tidbit of information.

But one of the most interesting concepts that is relatively new to Toronto, is The Workspace Commons. Recently launched here at an event with Mayor David Miller, City Councilor Adam Vaughn, NDP MP Olivia Chow, and former Prime Minister Paul Martin in attendance, The Workspace Commons is described as such:

“The Centre for Social Innovation provides part-time workspace and shared services in a beautifully restored warehouse space @ Queen & Spadina. Whether you are a small volunteer group that just needs a place to meet, a social entrepreneur in early start-up or a seasoned professional looking for a place to greet clients and check email between meetings, CSI is a place to make connections, find synergies and work together to change the world.

All members access a full suite of office services and amenities including high speed internet, photocopying, faxing, mail boxes, meeting rooms, shared kitchen and reception. But the magic is in the synergies and connections that are sparking social change everyday!”

This space is ideal for anyone who doesn’t need a permanent full time desk space but needs access to amenities such as board rooms, kitchen facilities, e.mail access (free wifi and ethernet access!), phone lines, photocopier, printer etc.

CSI is pushing forward to try and make more people aware about this amazing opportunity. It’s pretty groundbreaking for Toronto. So if you’re looking for a space like this, or know someone who is, check it out! Or just drop by for a coffee … 🙂

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Back to the basics – Cirque du Soleil, Kooza

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

KoozaIt seems like yesterday I saw Cirque du Soleil‘s masterpiece, Corteo. But that was two years ago now … my how time flies. It’s enough time, however, to make me jones for another spectacular show that only Cirque du Soleil can deliver.

When tickets for Kooza, Cirque’s latest touring show, went on sale back in the spring, I was online, credit card in hand and ready to pay a good penny for premium seats. Cirque is one of the few things I will pay top $ for without knowing anything about the show.

I’m a Cirque fanatic and proud of it. I’ve seen every touring show that has made it’s way through Toronto – dating back to 1986, I believe.

So on Friday night, my boyfriend and I headed down to the Portlands – where Cirque has planted itself this year after years at Ontario Place. I always get a rush when I see the Grand Chapiteau set up in all it’s blue and yellow striped glory. One of my favourite parts of going to Cirque is walking up the stairs into the tent and seeing the set for the first time. Corteo changed the entire seating of the tent by running the stage horizontally across the width of the tent, but Kooza has placed the circular stage back in the centre. There were no huge mechanical set pieces hanging from the top of the tent like Varekai, no set pieces coming out from the back of the stage. At first glance, this show looked much simpler than previous Cirque shows.

As per usual, the clowns came out into the audience before the show began causing mayhem and laughter as they interacted with the unsuspecting onlookers. I always enjoy this part of the show as it puts everyone in the mood and breaks down the fourth wall.

And then, “Mesdames et monsieurs. Welcome to Cirque du Soleil!” The announcer officially began the show and then blackout. The world we were transported to once the lights came back up on the stage was a mysterious, child-like world of innocence, hilarity and heart-pounding exhilaration! I’ll justs give you a few highlights here:

The contortionists were mind-blowing! I’ve never seen anyone bend and twist in so many different ways. These three young girls were absolutely jaw-dropping. They moved across their rotating platform bending around each other and creating beautifully symmetrical shapes with such ease and agility – they made it look like this was the easiest thing in the whole world. As the first act, they certainly set the standard for the rest of the show.

Act 1 ended with the most amazing tight-rope walkers I have ever seen. There were two tight ropes – one about 20 feet off the ground, the other, about 40 feet. Four men ascended to the various levels and began jumping and skipping rope with no safety net or safety harnesses … but the most terrifying part was when the four of them ended up on the top rope. Two bikes descended from the top of the tent and were placed on the tight rope one at each end. One man got on the bike and rode backwards to meet up with the other bike rider who attached himself to the backward biker via a shoulder harness with a 10 foot bar between them. Then, a third man climbs on top of the bar with a chair in hand, balances the chair on the bar, connected to the men sitting on bikes on a rope 40 feet in the air … confused yet? The third man sits on the chair and the three of them ride out into the centre of the rope when the chair man then stands up on the chair balancing on the bar … and sits back down. It was terrifying. The woman sitting next to me put her face in her hands and was shaking her head mumbling “No no no …” I don’t blame her. I couldn’t believe what I was watching myself. Especially with no safety net or harnesses. The applause when they finished their act was deafening.

Act 2 began with a bang as two brave souls conquered the Death Wheel. The two massive cylinders, attached on an axis in the middle, was lowered from the top of the tent. One of the performers jumped into one of the wheel and ran back and forth inside it causing the entire contraption to begin to spin from the stage floor to the top of the tent in one giant circle. After getting the whole wheel moving, the other performer grabbed hold of one the spinning wheels and jumped in helping the wheel to spin the wheel faster and faster. Eventually the performers were jumping up as the wheel hit the crest and went into a free fall on the descent finally catching themselves as the wheel spun around and began climbing up again. It was a sight to behold. Of course, they didn’t stop there. To heighten the tension a tad, one of the performers swung out and onto to the top of said spinning wheel, walking on top of the cylinder and then, of course, skipping rope, doing jumps, free falling … you know, the usual.

They received a well deserved standing ovation at the end of the act.

Overall, the show was wonderfully entertaining, but very simplistic in comparison to past Cirque shows. The performers were more front and centre and the acts were well chosen. The music was wonderful and really added to the excitement of the performances.

My only criticism, if any, was after all the exhilarating acts, the last act of the show ended on a rather “ho-hum” note. The final act – the teeterboard – has been used in other Cirque shows. While performed wonderfully by the acrobats, it lacked the sense of finality of many other Cirque performances like Varekai or Quidam.

Having said that, I still walked away with a feeling of exhilaration and excitement after having witnessed the magic that is Cirque. For those of you who have never seen a Cirque show – go! For those of you who have but haven’t seen Kooza – go! The show’s been extended until October 21, so there’s still time, but tickets go fast!


A hilarious Dream in High Park

Sunday, August 19, 2007

CanStage Dream in High ParkFriday night, a group of 5 of us took a seat on the hillside at the Dream in High Park around 6pm. It’s important to get there early in order to stake out a place to sit and make sure you have enough space for the people in your group. This is a summer tradition I hadn’t done in quite a few years – I used to go all the time when I was in high school and earlier … but the summer’s had always passed by lately without a wander to The Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park.

We spread the blanket down, third row centre and brought out the various salads and pastas and chips and dips which made up the picnic we were going to eat for the next two hours before the show began. A nice box of French Rabbit wine made the evening’s feast complete. It was a bit windy that evening and the sand storm that came from the path lead a bit to be desired, but overall, it was a beautiful night for a picnic.

This year’s Shakespeare selection was the ever classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ve seen this play a gazillion times, studied it in school, acted in it etc. but I never seem to tire of it. When done properly or with an interesting twist, this can be a hilarious comedy. This year’s production achieves ‘hilarity” status.

Director ahdri zhina mandiela set the Bard’s comedy in a modern day, urban Athen. The Athenian costumes were understated but effective while the faeries garb was anything but.

Puck was punk complete with tattoos from head to toe. Titania’s 3 faerie servants were dressed in magnificent colours – a sort of updated modern take on the 80’s (what the 80’s would look like if we dressed like that today).

But the most striking of all were the faerie King and Queen themselves. Titania, played by the ever amazing Karen Robinson (if you haven’t seen this woman on stage, you must – she is a force on stage to be reckon with) strolled onto the stage in a patch-quilt dress of oranges, greens and white followed by these amazing circular bouncing wings that looked like coils from a train conductors watch.  As playful as Titania’s costume was, Oberon’s was equally proud and larger than life. Outfitted in a blue tuxedo-type jacket, there were enormous leaves like peacock feathers protruding from his back, sticking straight up a good 10 feet into the air. Watching these two celestial figures walk on stage definitely gave the audience the impression that these characters were larger than life.

The Mechanicals – always the scene stealer – hammed it up and had me in stitches with their rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe at the end of the play. But when you have actors such as Steven Gallagher (last seen in CanStage’s The Rocky Horror Show) as Peter Quince and Andrew Kushnir (Hair) as Flute in the mix, you are sure to be in for a laugh. Everyone in the Mechanical ensemble was perfectly cast. Matthew Brown as Snout, Sarah Dodd playing a bitterly funny Starveling, Emberly Doherty as the shy Snug, and Matthew Kabwe as the know-it-all Bottom were all fantastic in their roles.

The Lovers, Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander, were also very well cast. I have to say that Maev Beatty stole the show out of the four of them with her brilliant comic timing and embodiment of Helena’s awkwardness and longing for Demetrius’ love. Lysander, played by Antonio Cayonne was very well acted including some wonderful rapping using the text provided. Holly Lewis and Richard Harte also performed exceptionally well in their role as Hermia and Demetrius respectively. Sarah Dodd, who doubled as Egeus, played this role perfectly as the executive suburban female constantly on the phone and full of contempt for practically everything. I do have to say though, it seems that she has worn the same skirt in the past three shows I’ve seen her in (the other two being Marion Bridge and A Whistle In The Dark).

The three ladies playing Titania’s faeries were a funny, energetic, mischievous trio of singers. Most of their text were sung with beautiful harmonies. And the master of mischief, Puck, played by Colin Heath, did a most excellent job in the role. His acrobatics alone really gave the character that faerie-like quality intended for the role. He seemed to fly through the air at parts or blend in to the scenery only to pop out later on.

There are times when watching Shakespeare can be tedious and tiring, and even in a comedy such as this, the play can drag. But thanks to the amazing direction from Ms. mandiela there is never a dull moment, never a lag. The almost 2 and a half hour show seems to whiz by and leaves you with a huge smile on your face. It really did seem magical that evening.

My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I would suggest to anyone looking for a really enjoyable evening to check out this production. Bring some snacks, a blanket and get there early. It is one of the summers traditions in Toronto that is definitely worth checking out.

The Dream In High Park is on until September 2.


Green Coffee, Great Time …

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Merchants of Green CoffeeYesterday was my dad’s birthday. My dad loves his coffee. Really loves his coffee. He can drink a coffee before bed and be fine. Always has. One of my favourite memories as a child is the sound of the milk being frothed for his cappuccino as I fell asleep. So today, as a surprise, my mom – who is never short on interesting ideas and fun adventures to go on – gathered a bunch of close friends and family at a rather fitting location – the home of the Merchants of Green Coffee.

We gathered for some snacks and nibblies and talked and caught up and wished my dad a happy birthday – and then it began … the history of coffee 101. Our host was a walking encyclopedia of information about the 2nd largest commodity industry in the world next to oil (over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year). He began by giving us a very concise and fascinating look into the history of coffee. Its origins begin in Ethiopia where they have an entire ceremony built around coffee.

Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity and birthplace of the arabica coffee tree (coffea arabica). Green coffee beans are crushed by tribes people and mixed with animal fat as a food source for long expeditions.

You’d never think it, but coffee has an incredibly fascinating history! I would suggest you take a look at the Merchants website about the history of the drink – which is the second most consumed beverage after tap water (!). So there we were, all 20 of us sitting around tables with five mugs in front of us – one for water to clean our spoon, one for drinking water to cleanse the pallete, and three for various types of coffee that were going to taste. The main reason the Merchants exist is to promote and educate consumers about fair trade and organic coffee.

Our mantra is Fresh Coffee, Fair Trade, Green Business. Merchants of Green Coffee strives to be a sustainable company – a business that creates financial and social wealth without degrading the productive and aesthetic capacity of the environment for both present and future generations. Essentially, we look at the triple bottom line; equal treatment of the economic, social and environmental components of trade. We exist to re-acquaint coffee drinkers to the wonderful taste of fresh roasted coffee using beans brought to market under sustainable conditions.

The Merchants subscribe to a mantra for coffee that has three key points noted here: 3 Keys to great coffee

We were all fascinated by what our host had to say. He jumped back and forth through time, threw out facts left, right and centre, but it all made sense and came together in the end. For example, Mocha Java – which for most of us North Americans means a blend of coffee and hot chocolate (or something similar), is actually two different types of coffees from two different regions split 50/50. The Java beans are higher in acidity and less full of body while the beans from the port of Mocha (where the beans were shipped from) are less acidic and more full of body. The combination of these two beans makes for a nice even brew.

Here’s another fascinating fact: Indoensian Monsoon – grown in India (one of the larger producers of coffee beans) – is created by drying the beans (which when done by hand can take up to two weeks), then placed in a large house-like structure with a roof but no walls and left there for another two weeks while the monsoon winds and moisture blow their way into the beans creating a “musty” taste. This process was created as a result in the decline of beans being sold to Europe. You see, when India used to ship their beans to Europe in wooden ships, they were known as one of the best coffee beans in the world because of their taste – which developed whilst at sea in these wooden ships and containers. But then metal ships came along and new ways of transporting the beans and suddenly when the beans arrived in Europe, they no longer had that “musty” taste and were rejected by the Europeans as “not real coffee”. So the process of creating Indonesian Monsoon beans was created!

I’m not retelling the story very well, but trust me – it’s a fascinating story.

The best part of the experience is knowing that the Merchants are here promoting a sustainable way of growing, roasting and distributing a commodity that we all want … they are concerned about the consumer and want the consumers to know how coffee is prepared from the minute it’s picked from the tree to the first sip. Coffee beans, when roasted, are only good for up to 5 days – and then they go stale. And once they’re ground, they’re only good for about 3 days max. So pretty much the coffee that you get at Starbucks, Second Cup – you name it, is not fresh but stale. Not only that, but the environmental impact of growing and roasting these beans is devastating to some of our most precious forests such as the rainforest in Brazil. Here are some interesting facts about the coffee trade:

  • Every cup of coffee consumed destroys roughly three square centimeters of rainforest, making coffee the 2nd leading cause of rainforest destruction.
  • Coffee is the 2nd most heavily pesticide sprayed crop in the world.
  • Coffee is the number one cause of water contamination in most producing regions.
  • Supply chain inequities exploit millions of small subsistence farmers.
  • Small farmers produce the highest quality coffee.
  • Fresh coffee, consumed one to three days after roasting, is dramatically superior in taste to any other coffee.

Fair TradeThere was so much information to soak up over the two hour session – and not a dull moment to be sure. But if anything, I learned that we have to be more conciously aware of the coffee that is being served out there. Look for the Fair Trade sign and organic labels.

There are numerous certification organizations throughout the world. For fair trade, look for coffee certified by members of the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) such as TransFair Canada and TransFair USA. For organics, look for coffee certified by members of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movemenbts (IFOAM) such as the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA). For shade and biodiversity, look for coffee certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre (SMBC) and Rainforest Alliance. 

One last tidbit, when you buy your coffee – see if there is a “roasted on” date … if not, you can be sure that the beans in your hands have been sitting there far longer than the 5 day limit.

For more information – definitely check out their website: merchantsofgreencoffee.com. Their location may be a bit out of the way (it’s just north of Queen, west of Broadview – you can see it from the Don Valley), but it’s worth the trip for sure. They do have coffee classes that give you a more indepth look at the trade and bean that has become so imbedded in our culture, and they havea fantastic store set up for you to browse and sample various coffees. You can also become a member of the Merchants and recieve 30lbs of coffee over the year (delivered straight to your door) plus recieve a free roaster of your own! Be sure to check out the many stores around Toronto that offer Fair Trade and organic green coffee beans. There are tons of them out there.

Now if only I drank coffee…


A beautifully crafted Overcoat

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Everyone has a Pokeroo in their lives (someone or something that always seems to elude them no matter how hard they try to find it/see it) – or a Snuffleupagus for our American friends …

The Overcoat adapted by Morris Panych currently playing at CanStage (Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre) has been my Pokeroo since 2000. I remember hearing about when it first premiered in Toronto and thinking “Wow, this sounds like something I’d like to see!” But I missed it then … and then in 2002 when it came back … but now, after years of travelling around the world and mesmerizing audiences internationally it has returned to Toronto and you can be sure that I was not going to miss it this time.

You can imagine my excitement when my invitation to the opening night arrived in the mail – I was on the phone right away to reserve my seats.

This play does not disappoint. I suggest everyone buy a ticket and see some great performances. The play centers around a man who’s life is pretty standard – nothing exceptional. His co-workers bug him because he’s a bit of a “loser”. His landlady continually throws herself at him, but he’s not interested. His life is rather plain – as is his overcoat. But one day – after his coat becomes not much more than a rag hanging off him, he finds a taylor who designs him his very own overcoat – fitted and everything. This is one of the best parts of the play – watching the taylor and the sewers work tirelessly to create this amazing overcoat.

It’s love at first sight. Our protagonist is thrilled with his new coat and so is everyone else. He finally becomes noticed by everyone and is invited to drink and dine with the socialites of the town.

Unfortunately, fame has its price as he soon finds out and the second act takes a decidedly darker turn. While The Overcoat doesn’t end up on the happiest note, it is a wonderful story. One of the things I liked most about this show is the fact that the entire thing is done sans text. It is completely told through movement and music. It’s not a musical, there are no ballads, and it’s not dance per say. The staging of it is incredible, the set is beautiful, lighting superb, the music is fantastic … and the acting is brilliant! I can’t say enough about this show. I love shows that don’t rely on text to tell the story, and this show delivers.

I highly suggest you check it out. You can buy tickets through CanStage or T.O.TIX if you want to try and get some discount tickets – www.totix.ca.


Go Live indeed …

Friday, January 26, 2007

2006 was the year of Creativity in Toronto as declared by Mayor Miller – and with that came the launch of the Live With Culture campaign which – in my opinion – was a lack-luster attempt to get Torontonians involved in the artistic fabric of the city. The only event that really sparked any interest was Nuit Blanche – and that was a resounding success!

2006 was also a busy year for the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA). The arts service organziation which is “the voice of theatre, dance and opera in Toronto”, produces the Dora Mavor Moore Awards (the annual performing arts awards in Toronto), and owns and operates T.O.TIX (see post beneath), launched its own city-wide arts marketing campaign called Go Live Toronto.

This marketing campaign is a call to action for the citizens of Toronto and the tourists visiting the city to step outside the box and try something different be it an independent production at the Theatre Centre, a modern dance piece at the Toronto Dance Theatre, or listen to the beauty of Baroque opera with Opera Atelier. There are several calls to actions in the campaign to check out:

  • goliveto.ca – the digital hub of the campaign, this website offers an online listing of upcoming shows in all genres and allows visitors to search by any field to find out what’s playing in the city (and there’s always something going on). It also links to T.O.TIX so you can purchase your tickets through the online box office.
  • hipTIX – this is a great new initiative for all students! hipTIX allows any student in high school or post secondary (up to the age of 25) with a valid ID (ISIC too!) to purchase $5 tickets to select shows through T.O.TIX! This is a fantastic way for students to see some great shows. You can buy them in-person at T.O.TIX at Yonge-Dundas Square or online at totix.ca.
  • 5 Star Experience – If you’re looking for a really neat experience, you have to check out these discount theatre packages! They are pretty amazing and incredibly well priced. The 5 Star Experience offers buyers these amazing packages:
    • Barrel of Laughs: a beer tasting and tour of Steamwhistle Brewery, dinner at The Red Tomato, and tickets to The Second City
    • Fusion: choose a show from each of these amazing companies – CanStage, Tarragon Theatre and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
    • Kidding Around: if you have kids, this is a great package – tickets to the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and a trip up the CN Tower
    • Stepping Out: A chance to see some fantastic dance shows at Harbourfront Centre, access to The Power Plant Contemorary Art Gallery, and dinner at Il Fornello.
    • NEWorld: If you want to enhance your visit to Harbourfront’s New World Stage Festival, check out this package which gets you into select New World Festival shows, access to The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, and dinner at Il Fornello.
  • The Theatre Guide – this is published every two months and distributed throughout the City at various hotels and attractions – pick one up if you see it as there is a theatre map (also found online here) and listings of upcoming shows.
  • Write On! – If you’ve ever wanted to play your hand at being a journalist, now’s your chance. If you see a show and feel like telling the world about it, you can post your comments on this bulletin board and help spread the word about a show you’ve seen.

This is a fantastic marketing campaign that is still in its infant stage and will surely grow as the year continues on so best to check back for updated information, new packages and new initiatives!


Moving into the 21st Century …

Monday, January 8, 2007

This is just a quick note before the boyfriend and I watch Chicken Run (I love this movie) – but on my way over to his neck of the woods, I took the Wellseley bus and to my elated surprise, I was greeted each stop with the voice of the new TTC GPS Woman AND an LED sign indiciating the name of the upcoming stop!

Wow.

I heard about this idea being tested on the Bay bus about a year ago, and I’m very excited to see this initiative moving forward.

I know I’ve blogged about the TTC a lot lately, but I’ve got a lot to say (apparently) and there are a lot of changes happening to our beloved transit system right now … mostly good things thus far. Keep it up!

Now, if we could maybe make the TTC GPS woman just a bit happier when announcing the stops … one step at a time I suppose. 🙂