A Family Affair

Married actors Madeleine Donohue and Geoffrey Pounsett drove from Toronto with their two small children in early June to North Rustico PEI to spend the summer performing at the Watermark Theatre. Madeleine is starring in “Dial M For Murder” as Margot Wendice, while Geoffrey tackles the roles of James Tyrone in “A Moon for the Misbegotten” and Max Halliday opposite his wife in “Dial M For Murder”.

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“In the play I have an affair with my husband’s character, Max, while my stage husband- played by Artistic Director Robert Tsonos- seethes in the background”, says Madeleine, “Despite the spooky subject matter I’m having SO much fun playing Margot, and the whole creative team’s done a terrific job”. “We’ve never worked together before”, says Geoffrey. “The opportunity has arisen a couple of times, but each time one of us was already committed to something else. In the past, one of us has usually stayed in Toronto with the kids while the other is away for work. This was the perfect opportunity to finally share the stage while also having a great summer experience together as a family.”

The two met in the summer of 2008, when they each appeared in both the Fringe and Summerworks Festivals. Madeleine had written her very first play, and Geoffrey was appearing in Erin Shield’s “If We Were Birds”, which continued on to a successful run at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre . “The Fringe/Summerworks scene is pretty social, so we bumped into each other often. Eventually we discovered that we lived a block away from each other” recalls Madeleine. “Our colleagues were pretty encouraging; we had both attended the same theatre school so we had a lot of friends in common, though we’d never met.  I’d just ended a relationship, and my girlfriends wasted no time in “suggesting” that I check out this Geoffrey guy. Thank goodness for pushy friends!”

Having performed at both the Neptune Theatre (A Few Good Men, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and the Charlottetown Festival (Fire, Anne of Green Gables), Geoffrey was eager to return to an east coast stage this summer. His work has taken him across the country, including multiple seasons at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Theatre Calgary and the NAC, as well as a villainous turn in the Canadian production of the international hit “War Horse”.  He is also a noted director of new Canadian plays, including two Governor-General’s Award nominees, and a classical theatre instructor at George Brown Theatre School in Toronto.

Madeleine has appeared in 9 Shakespeare productions, including five tours with Ontario’s Driftwood Theatre Group. She has also performed in four shows with Theatre Gargantua, a physical theatre company in Toronto.  She has worked extensively in children’s theatre, touring North America with Roseneath Theatre and Metaphysical Theatre. With her company Down n’ Out Productions, Madeleine produced five productions at Toronto’s Campbell House Museum, including a play she wrote about the war of 1812 which went on to tour the province. Her most recent children’s plays were commissioned by the Royal Ontario Museum.

Madeleine also loves teaching theatre to kids and teens. “With both of us working in theatre, scheduling is probably the biggest challenge we face as parents, whether in Toronto or elsewhere”, says Geoffrey.  “We’re very lucky to have a reliable network of friends in the city, as well as the world’s most committed grandparents. Our kids have spent quite a few hours in audition waiting rooms and theatre greenrooms, or hanging in parks with friends while we audition. They’re pretty familiar with the transit system already” Madeleine adds “I did two shows when they were tiny babies, and both times the companies were incredibly supportive when it came to scheduling issues, or providing space for babysitters or nursing, etc. And we love that our kids are already passionate theatregoers! So far, puppets are a MAJOR hit.”

Geoffrey reports “the kids are loving the island. They just went to their first Ceilidh and have now decided that they’re step-dancers. I’d worked here twice before (at the Charlottetown festival) but it’s Madeleine’s first time on the island, so we jumped at the opportunity to drive east. The kids are at the perfect age; at 3 and 4 they don’t mind being whisked away from friends and activities for a few months.”

“I don’t think they want to go back!” adds Madeleine. “I don’t blame them. We’re living in York, and they have so much space to run around. And they’re fascinated by the fishing boats in North Rustico. It’s been a magical summer so far.”

Both plays, “Dial M For Murder” and “A Moon For The Misbegotten” run to September 1st. Tickets can be purchased via the company’s website http://www.watermarktheatre.com or by calling 902-963-3963.

For more information, or to further interview Madeleine or Geoffrey, please contact Andrea Surich at 902-963-3963 or generalmanager@watermarktheatre.com

Watermark Theatre is a proud member of the PTN (Professional Theatre Network of PEI)

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Showcasing Yourself

What a summer for the beach…and there are still plenty of days left!

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Here’s a selection of pieces from the Showcase Gift Shop at the Confederation Centre that you’re ready for a day on the shore and an evening out at the Confederation Centre.

Let ‘Er Rip

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“J’aurais quelque chose a dire.”  Barachois

The Stanley Bridge Women’s Institute is the Stanley Bridge Community Hall on the corner of Route 6 and Rattenbury Road on the north-central coast of Prince Edward Island. The small town of Stanley Bridge spreads out in all directions.

A new traffic circle at the old intersection keeps the traffic moving. On one corner is the Race Trac gas station and farther down is the farmer’s market. Where the road flattens out at the river is the actual bridge that kids spend the summer jumping off down into the channel flowing out to the New London Bay.

The Women’s Institute is a yellow two-story clapboard building with white trim and a fair-sized deck. From the vantage of the front deck is a solitary house across the street, a cropland spread out wide and long, and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a quiet building on rising ground, except when six nights a week ceilidhs fill the hall with Irish Scottish Acadian fiddles guitars pianos and step dancing.

The hall holds close to 150 if every seat and bench along the side is taken. The night the Arsenault Trio – Helene Arsenault Bergeron, Jonathan Arsenault, and his mother Louise Arsenault – joined by Gary Chipman, played their first show of the summer in Stanley Bridge on a Wednesday night, there were upwards of a hundred ready to go.

“It’s great to see you all, thanks for coming,” said Marsha Weeks, the host of the show.

“All set?” asked Gary Chipman.

“All set,” said Louise Arsenault.

Ceilidhs are concerts, but more like musical gatherings, often staged at small halls in the Canadian Maritimes. Not so long ago, and sometimes even today, they were more along the lines of a kitchen party, a kind of jam session at home with the neighbors. Whoever could play a fiddle or a guitar or belt out a song at the top of their lungs would inevitably find themselves in the kitchen with everyone else. When it was the middle of January a case of beer might be close at hand in the snow just outside one of the windows.

The word itself comes from the Old Irish for companion.

“On long, dark winter nights it is still the custom in small villages for friends to collect in a house,” Donald Mackenzie wrote explaining ceilidhs more than a hundred years ago. “Some sing old songs set to old music or new music composed in the manner of the old.”

The music at Prince Edward Island ceilidhs is alert animate full of life, mainly jigs and reels, with a mix of waltzes and country songs. There are occasional vignettes about life on the island, some island humor, and stories about islanders making the music. Most of the shows are set in community centers, churches, town halls, and Lion’s clubs.

The Arsenault Trio ripped into the ‘Acadian Reel’, an Evangeline Region tune in the Cape Breton style played in 4/4 time, in other words, on the fast side. From kitchen parties to laser-lit techno dance floors, the same rhythm pattern is part and parcel of the carousing. The signature style of Acadian fiddling is down home rhythmic drive with sawstroke syncopation, sometimes called shuffles.

“When you do the shuffle,” said Louise Arsenault, “it’s like two up bows in a row. That was dad’s style.”

The Evangeline Region of PEI is the land west of Summerside, from Miscouche to Mont Carmel to Abrams Village. Flags in blue, white, and red with a single gold star fly from front porches and front yards. Mailboxes are painted in the Acadian colors. The annual Agricultural Exhibition and Acadian Festival features boot throwing, horse pulling, and a big music and dance party at the end.

The communities are about co-operatives, farming and fishing, vittles and fiddling.

“Where’s everybody from?” Marsha asked the crowd.

Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Ohio, Florida, and Australia were some of the answers.

“Massachusetts,” a man called out.

“Whatever you said,” said Marsha. “I can’t pronounce that.”

“Wellington,” another man called out.

Several in the audience, probably all from Prince Edward Island, laughed. Wellington is a small town on PEI. It is home to the head office of College Acadie as well as the Bottle Houses, which are three fantasy-like buildings made of approximately 30,000 recycled glass bottles.

Most of the year islanders have the island to themselves. In the summer ten times as many people as live on PEI visit there for a week-or-two.

“They gave it 150% and we could feel it down to our tappin’ toes,” said a man from Amherst, Massachusetts.

The Aussies in the audience thought it was an “all there bonzer” show.

“The energy was amazing,” said a woman from New South Wales, Australia. “We all clapped and stamped our feet.”

Gary Chipman announced he was going to sing a song.

“I’ve been told I have a great voice, but that I’m going to ruin it by singing,” he said. Still and all, he has been singing for many years. He sang ‘Prince Edward Island Is Heaven To Me’, a country song penned in 1951 by Hal Lone Pine and recorded with his Lone Pine Mountaineers.  

“The air is so pure, and the people so gay, Prince Edward Island, I’m coming to stay, there’s swimming and hunting and fishing galore, the sun shines so bright on its long golden shore, a touch of God’s great hand this island must be, Prince Edward Island is heaven to me.”

“Yes, sir!” somebody rang out at the end of the song.

Somebody else called out a request for the ‘Arkansas Traveler’.

“It was some hot day today,” said Louise Arsenault. “You can go from your fur coat to your bikini just like that here on this island.” A few days earlier it had rained eighteen hours straight and never reached fifty degrees. The day of the show it was a breezy sunny 74 degrees.

“Arkansas Traveler!”

“Has anybody got a drink in his car?” asked Gary Chipman, to keep his singing voice well-oiled. He told a joke about a young woman in a tight skirt trying to board a bus.

“Arkansas Traveler!”

The ‘Arkansas Traveler’ is a plantation fiddle tune, a quick reel, from the early 19th century, one of the most famous of American fiddle tunes. Back in the day it was a barn raiser, meant to tear the audience up. The band tore into it, followed by ‘The Maid Behind the Bar’ and ‘Farmer’s Daughter’.

Jonathan Arsenault played ‘Cottonwood’ on his guitar. In the second half of the show he played ‘Jerry’s Breakdown’. Written by Jerry Reed, a Nashville guitarist and country singer, the song is played finger-style on guitar in a similar way to the banjo.

“It’s a wicked hard tune to play, but Jonathan makes it look easy,” said Gary.

“When I was a boy, mom bought a little guitar at a flea market,” said Jonathan. “That was her only guitar back then. She sat me at a table, put the fiddle in her lap, and played a set. I learned to flat top pick from my mom, from the fiddle, since she didn’t have a second guitar to show me what a fret was.”

Step dancing is a part of most, if not all, ceilidhs on Prince Edward Island.

“Louise and I are from Acadian backgrounds,” said Helene Arsenault Bergeron. “We grew up with fathers playing the fiddle. In those days they didn’t have a lot of accompaniment, so they accompanied themselves with their feet. That way they always had their accompanists with them.”

She and Louise Arsenault stepped to the front of the stage.

“When you hear that every day, you learn how to play and dance and you don’t even remember learning it. We saw our fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandfathers, and it was just kind of always there, and so we’re going to do a dance for you now.”

The dancing was sparkling high-spirited swashbuckling.

“I was waiting all night for that,” said Jonathan.

Step dancing descends from traditional Irish dancing. Tap dancing is a modern form of it. It is a looser form. The arms move along with the feet. Step dancers keep their upper bodies still with their arms at their sides, except when they don’t, when they’re fiddling at the same time.

Creating your own melody by using your feet is challenging enough, but fiddling a reel at the same time as step dancing like the Arsenault’s do is gnarly, time to sit up and take notice. Louise and Helene do it like a walk in the park, no matter the large front tap on one of Helene’s shoes secured with black electrical tape.

Louise grew up down the road from Helene and Albert Arsenault, who she would later collaborate with in a roots music band. Her father, Alyre Gallant, played music, too. “I grew up in a musical family,” she said. “My father played the fiddle and my mother played the pump organ. I started playing when I was seven. I learned a lot of tunes from my dad.”

At a time in the 1960s when few Prince County girls picked up the fiddle, her father jigged tunes when she was a girl so she could find them on her instrument.

The first half of the show ended with a series of reels. “Whoop, whoop,” someone in the audience shouted. Someone else stamped their feet. It was getting dark on the other side of the windows. It was still fired up inside the hall.

The second half opened the same way as the first half, with the ‘Acadian Reel’. The song is the work of Eddy Arsenault, a carpenter and fisherman and one of the hands-down best fiddlers on PEI for more than 70 years. Helene Bergeron’s father, he blended local Acadian fiddling with the Scottish approach.

“Is this a new tune,” asked Marie Gallant Arsenault the first time she heard the song a few minutes after its composition. “It is lively.”

“Yes, it is,” said Eddy Arsenault. “What are we going to call it?”

“That sounds right like Acadian music,” said Marie. “Why don’t you call it the Acadian Reel?”

The name stuck.

Even though Eddy Arsenault wrote it, it’s the kind of song that was never new and never gets old.

Gary Chipman strolled into ‘You Are My Sunshine’, inviting everyone to join in, which many did, some of their voices uncommonly good.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.”

After Gary put his guitar down to the side, Helene stepped around her piano to the front of the stage, and brought some perspective to the sunshine song that had brought a warm glow to the hall.

“Louise and I used to be in a band called Barachois,” she said.

Helene Arsenault Bergeron got her start as a kid in a barn putting on step dancing shows set to old records scratching out fiddle tunes. She watched her elders. “The kitchen parties we had at my grandfather’s and at our house, everybody was always jumping up to dance because the fiddling, the music was so lively.” By her 30s she was one of the best step dancers on Prince Edward Island. She took up the piano, taking on the Cape Breton style, with lift, syncopated, marked by step dancing rhythms.

“Jonathan would come on tour with us when he was a small boy, and he just loved this song we’re going to do for you. Some of the older generation, they used to compose songs as a way of keeping track of local events. It’s a song about an old maid, an old girl, whose neighbor, a young girl, asks for advice about getting married, but the old girl is disillusioned, so it’s not a very encouraging song.”

Louise threw her head back and laughed zestfully full-mouthed.

“It’s called ‘The Family Song’,” said Helene.

Later in the summer Gary might tell a joke about a RCMP officer who calls his station from a crime scene.

“I have an interesting case here,” he says. “A woman shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.”

“Have you arrested her?” asks his sergeant.

“No, not yet, the floor’s still wet.”

After more hoedowning by the band, Helene and Louise brought two chairs to the center front of the stage.

“Helene and I are going to do a sit down dance,” said Louise. “It’s not because we’re lazy. We can dance standing, we can dance sitting, so here we go!”

Their arms at their sides, their hands gripping the sides of their seats, able-bodied, their feet a breakdown blur, seeming to never leave the floor no matter the tapping, they chair danced up a storm.

Marsha Weeks walked out from the wings with her fiddle.

“You know it’s a great show when the host comes back on stage,” said Jonathan.

Gary, who taught Marsha how to play, picked up his fiddle, as did Helene and Louise.

Gary Chipman has been playing the fiddle since he was five-years-old. He says it was “about a hundred years ago.” Later in life he picked up the guitar and vocals, when “Elvis Presley and the boys came along and the fiddle was out.” With the revival of PEI fiddling in the 1990s, he rosined up his bow again. He earned a degree in clinical psychology, but says it “only made me a smarter fiddle player.”

A hundred years later he concedes, “I’m going to keep playing until I can’t play anymore.”

They played an arrangement on four fiddles of the ‘Tennessee Waltz’, a tune from the 1940s whose lyrics were first written down on the back of a matchbox and whose music by Pee Wee King remains sad and lively to this day, tracing a man and a woman turning around and around a dance floor.

“I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz, when an old friend I happened to see, I introduced her to my loved one, and while they were dancing, my friend stole my sweetheart from me.”

Although they had been letting it rip all along, at the last Gary and the Arsenault’s let it rip. “We’re going to end with the fastest tune of the night, I’m pretty sure,” said Marsha. They dove headlong into an instrumental version of the ‘Orange Blossom Special’.

Laisse les aller!

The tune is for raising high the roof beam. It is sometimes just called ‘The Special’ and is known as the fiddle player’s national anthem. For a long time fiddle players needed to know how to play that one song before being able to join any bluegrass band.

“It is a vehicle to exhibit the fiddler’s pyrotechnic virtuosity,” wrote Norm Cohen in his book about railroads in folksongs. “It is guaranteed to bring the blood of all but the most jaded listeners to a quick, rolling boil.”

No one at the Stanley Bridge ceilidh was left jaded as the last notes of the ‘The Special’ steamed away into the night.

“She’s the fastest train on the line, it’s that Orange Blossom Special, rollin’ down the seaboard line.”

The show ended with hootin’ and hollerin’ and a big round of applause.

“If you had a great time, please tell everybody at your cottage and campgrounds,” said Marsha as the lights came up. “If you didn’t have a good time, you can just see Gary in the kitchen after the show.”

It wouldn’t be a kitchen party if something lively wasn’t going on in the kitchen.

Cookin’ Up Hank

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3RD, 7:30PM at the Harbourfront Theatre

All Seats: $34.50 (tax & fees included)

“Ryan Cook’s channeling of Hank Williams – his voice and heartache- is a moving experience. A terrific performance by this young artist and his band”- Harry Thurston, Gaspereau Press

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Ryan Cook began performing as Hank Williams in 2009 when he performed consecutive sold-out weeks of the Maynard Collins play “The Show He Never Gave” in Sackville, New Brunswick.

Having performed on some of the same stages as Hank Williams including the Ryman Auditorium and Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree in Nashville, TN, Ryan has also studied Hank Williams’ life through the biographical work of Colin Escott, Sneezy Waters, The Country Music Hall of Fame (TN), Hank Williams Boyhood Home & Museum (AL), and The Hank Williams Museum (Montgomery (AL).

Along with band mates the Drifting Cowboys, this two-act feature performance includes 22 songs from the man hailed by many as the greatest country music singer and songwriter of all time.

Ryan Cook and company re-animate the sounds of Don Helms’ haunting steel guitar, Jerry Rivers’ fiddle arrangements, and the yodeling of the lovesick boy from Georgiana, Luke the Drifter himself: Hank Williams.

“I feel like I’m watching Hank in his prime on a stage that he was no stranger to… I flew to Nova Scotia to experience the magic for myself, and wasn’t disappointed!” – John Walker, Producer –Music City Roots

From One Island to Another

New York Stories: with Former NYLON Micah Barnes and Holly Arsenault

Micah Barnes has been a treasured voice on the Canadian music scene for decades, and is a former member of the A Capella group The Nylons.

Micah’s latest show “New York Stories” takes you on a musical tour of The Big Apple starting uptown at The Apollo Theatre and The Cotton Club and moving midtown to Time Square & Broadway before landing downtown at Jazz Clubs Birdland and The Blue Note in The Village. The Canadian Jazz crooner will be performing beloved chestnuts from the world of Broadway, Jazz and Doo Wop  from legendary New York songwriters like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Carole King & Burt Bacharach, as well as songs from Micah’s critically acclaimed disc “New York Stories” (eOne Music).

“Following his time with the a cappella act The Nylons, Micah Barnes has found his own voice, that of a highly personal singer/songwriter with a strong jazz sensibility.” – Montreal Mirror

The piano has been Holly Arsenault’s favourite toy since the ripe old age of 4 when she came upon the tired old upright at her grandmother’s house in Cape Breton.  In the years since, she has traveled the globe as a pit musician, music director, sideman, soloist and leader of her own trio . These days, Holly lives and plays in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with forays into the wider world as opportunities and adventures beckon.

See the show at the Victoria Playhouse on August 6th.

To the Rescue

Join us at the Guild for Gerald Beaulieu‘s fantastic exhibit, “Superheroes”
The theme of Superheroes for me references both a passion for the comic book genre and a fascination of the extraordinary. I want these figures all to be larger than life, displaying an act of desire to go beyond physical limits and the need to transcend imposed boundaries. Each figure in both form and material is in a state of transition, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the commonplace to the mythical. These pieces are an attempt to comment on the notion of the heroic, the drastic singular act as solution and answer, the role model to be admired and emulated, the isolation of celebrity and the dualities of public personas and secret identities. Shown together I hope these figures reflect on both the power of the myths they aspire to and the fragility of the reality they inhabit.
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This series has was created over a span of ten years. The final three figures of the series were completed during a month-long residency in 2007 at Gallery Connexion in Fredericton New Brunswick in cooperation with the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. When completed the complete collection was exhibited at the Gallery, the College, and downtown Fredericton.
The structure of all the figures are composed of wood carved into their various poses. Each figure starts out the same, in composition, as the others and are transformed or given their powers, by the various surface treatments applied to the figures. These action figures are not representative of any one character but are compilations derived from the comic genre, mythologies, and legend.
Superheroes is at The Guild through July 28th

When Dutch is a Must See

“Connolly’s thoughtful performance serves the complexity of a flawed human well. A slight nod of approval or a glint briefly startled out of his eyes become important moments.”

The Guardian

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On the Road with Dutch Mason is at the Mack all summer and is a must-see show!