Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Ross Petty's Sleeping Beauty BFFs: Meet Alexandra Beaton & Taveeta Szymanowicz

Fall/winter theatre favourite Ross Petty Productions is back with another fairy-tale pantomime! This year's treat is Sleeping Beauty-The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical. The beauty is Kinky Boots star, AJ Bridal and playing her best pals are Alexandra Beaton and Taveeta Szymanowicz of Family Channel's The Next Steps. Taveeta and Alexandra were in rehearsals but took time out to share some insights into their roles.

Alexandra Beaton & Taveeta Szymanowicz
photo credit: Bruce Zinger

donna g: Were either of you familiar with pantomime before being cast in Ross Petty's version of Sleeping Beauty?

Taveeta: Yes! I saw Ross's production of Peter Pan when I was in Elementary school. I remember having such a lovely time. I was thus very excited when I was cast in Ross's 2015/16 production of Peter Pan in Wonderland last year. I was thrilled to be cast again this year! 

Alexandra: Of course! Growing up in Toronto, going to the Panto at Christmas  time was a tradition for a lot of my friends. I even saw a few myself.

donna g: You both play Beauty's BFF guardian angels. Could tell us a bit about your characters?

Taveeta: I play Gabriella aka "Gabby" the Charm. She is one of 3 Charms that protect Sleeping Beauty aka the heroine "Rose"! She's really fierce and fun and super protective. It is a really fun role to play as one of my dream roles has always been a spy, and this role has similar sneaky but kicking type qualities! I wouldn't mess with Gabby ;) 

Alexandra: Being a Charm is so much fun! Fee is strong and independent but takes her job of protecting Rose very seriously. It is her mission to keep Rose safe and happy. Fee, and her "sisters", move as a unit and because of that are the best of friends as well as being the ultimate team. 

donna g: How have you have had to adapt from acting in front of the camera to acting in such an exaggerated form of theatre?

Taveeta: I started my career on a stage as a dancer and so being on a stage in front of a live audience feels very natural to me! It hasn't been that difficult to adapt. 
AlexandraActing on TV and in theatre are two totally different mediums and have to be treated as such. What works on the screen will rarely work on the stage. Both are their own craft and deserve to be treated as such. Luckily, both are so much fun to do. So yes, there has been some adapting.

donna g: We know from your roles in The Next Step that you can both dance; how much dancing can audiences expect from you to in this production? Can you share any tidbits without giving too much away?

Taveeta: There are some awesome musical numbers in the show this year! All I can say is that you will for sure be singing and dancing along to some of your favourite songs in your seats.
Alexandra: The Charms dance quite a bit in this production! Primarily, I am an actor so getting back in to the dancing groove has been a fun challenge for me! One thing you should know is that the charms are literally born protectors so all their dancing has a bit of a fighting side to it.   

donna g: Could you describe your respective costumes? Did you have any input into the design or were they dance-perfect from the get go?

Taveeta: The Charms get to wear these fabulous tight, spy-like gold sequin costumes! It's the perfect balance of spy-like attire meets the brightness and sparkles that is the Panto! They are beautiful, and very comfortable!

Alexandra: Our costume department is so good they did not need any input! They came up with an amazing design of gold jumpsuits that are designed to fit each of the charms individual personality. 
donna g: What are you each looking forward to on Opening Night, or the run of the show, if that's the case?

Taveeta: This show is such a great production to be a part of during the Holiday Season! I am really looking forward to having fun on stage with such humble and talented people- most of all I'm excited to see all of the fans! 

Alexandra: All of it! Each audience is different and each show has a different energy. I know opening night will be amazing but I think just being part of the Panto is pretty exciting as well.

Ross Petty Productions proudly presents the all-star Canadian cast of
SLEEPING BEAUTY – The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical,
the 21st annual fractured fairytale at the Elgin Theatre,
November 25, 2016 – January 7, 2017

Guest Star Hilary Farr ( HGTV’s Love it or List It)
Featuring AJ Bridel, Paul Constable, James Daly, Eddie Glen
With Alexandra Beaton, Lisa Horner, Laurie Murdoch and Taveeta Szymanowicz

         For a complete performance schedule visit        

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Festival Founder/Director Marcelle Lean Welcomes All to Cinéfranco 2016!

Cinéfranco International Festival opens tomorrow and runs until Nov. 1st, and Founder/Artistic Director, Marcelle Lean couldn't be more excited to welcome you to the Francophone festival!

donna g: Cinéfranco (CF) is celebrating its 19th year, but it hasn't been an easy ride with funding. You could have given up. What keeps you going?

Marcelle Lean
What keeps me going is my passion for cinema as well as my joy to share the films with other film lovers. I could not give up because when Cinéfranco was rejected for a major Ontario grant and had to cancel its general spring festival, people took the time to write letters to newspapers, to phone Francophone radio stations, to send emails. Over 300 people signed a petition spurred by an activist film lover. I felt energized by so much positivity and sincere emotions.

donna g: The screenings are at Spadina Theatre inside Alliance française de Toronto. What prompted the move to have screenings at this location?

Marcelle: I had been working with Alliance française de Toronto for a while now especially presenting films at the Spadina Theatre for the Thursday night screenings. More recently the Special Quebec edition took place at Spadina Theatre that was a full house for most of the screenings. AFT and Cinéfranco wanted to renew the experience.

donna g: With the #oscarsowhite hashtags pointing out the lack of diversity in films audiences are rightfully demanding that films include rather than exclude. How is Cinéfranco addressing this issue in its programming?

Marcelle: There is no such thing as a Francophone community in Toronto. We have to say it is fragmented into communities of diverse origins. As a Francophone festival that wants to federate all of these communities, it is important to reflect it in the film selection. As a programmer I have to be sensitive to all Francophones to project a vision of themselves and of what binds us all: the use of French language as a means of self-expression, a cultural and linguistic identity. This year the program centres around the theme of the identity in crisis and human rights in France, Quebec, Belgium, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, where the films come from…

If we look at 2 of Quebec films, Montréal la blanche /Montreal, White City deals with two Algerian immigrants roaming Montreal on Christmas Eve during Ramadan. They reflect on their past, on their values quite different from their new home where they feel excluded. They open up the wounds of most immigrants trying to fit in yet unable to let go of their past. In Avant les rues /Before the Streets filmmaker Chloé Leriche delves into the tragedy of First Nations youth through a story of crime. Acted by remarkable non-professional actors, the film depicts the loss of roots that brings self-loathing, the joblessness that brings boredom and apathy. This is the first film in Atikamekw language and French.

Films from France focus on its internal fractures and clashes. Jihadists trying to destroy the fabric of French society by placing a bomb on the Champs Elysées (Made in France by Nicolas Boukhrief) or Certifiée Halal/Certified Halal that starts with a French North African woman revolting against virginity certificates required from a woman before getting married. Both films ran into sad obstacles: Made in France deemed prophetic after the Bataclan terrorist attacks of November 2015, was not allowed to open in commercial theatres. Certifiée Halal/Certified Halal, a hilarious comedy, came right after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, which made it impossible for the film to play in Parisian theatres.

Chocolat by Roschdy Zem shows the intrinsic racism of the French society in the 1900s Belle époque. Footit (James Thiérrée), the White clown, does not hide the fact that he is exploiting Chocolat (Omar Sy) because he is black and looks like a “savage”. This film is not without reminding me of French director Abdellatif Kechiche’s film Vénus noire, the true, brutal story of Saartjie Baartman  who followed her “owner” to Europe to find fame and fortune.

Exile from Iran and immigration to France put an Iranian family centre stage in Nous trois ou rienAll Three of Us. It proves that immigrants fleeing dictatorship are capable of positively contributing to the society at large.

These are a few examples that illustrate the diversity of the Francophone diaspora against the grain of #oscarsowhite hashtags.

donna g: A francophone film festival may not be at the forefront of many youth even though many of them take French in school. What does CF have to offer them this year in terms of seeing themselves on screen?

Marcelle: This edition of Cinéfranco is not particularly dedicated to youth as is our Youth Film Festival. However, a few films in the program centre around the struggles of youth trying to fulfil their aspirations in a hostile environment. The dilemmas are intense as these youth are not happy with what the society they live in, offers. In Made in France for instance the young men forming the jihadist cells dream of an ideal world, but they have to commit evil violent acts before reaching their goals. But each of them has his interpretation of what he can or cannot do. The Quebecois film Avant les rues/Before the Streets deals in depth with the malaise of First Nations youth.

In Insoumise/Rebellious Girl, the same theme of youth refusing to accept injustice pops up in the relationships between seasonal workers and their bosses. Again the film portrays a will to fight unlike the previous generations working without any protests against the unjust exploitation of their labour.

With Certifiée Halal/Certified Halal Kenza Boukamache incites her “sisters” to reject the humiliating practice of showing a certificate of virginity before getting married. As a young woman, she fights the male dominated culture she is raised in. Kenza affirms her identity as a free woman like any French young woman.

In the closing film, As I Open My Eyes, the dictatorship of Ben Ali has spies everywhere to control and crush. Young Farah leaves school to enter a universe where she thinks she is free to sing her provocative songs. She does not realize that her “Music becomes a dangerous weapon”. This poignant story of the rude awakening of a muzzled youth symbolized by Farah emphasizes the clash of generations: those who know the consequences and those who may risk their lives for their ideals. Director Leyla Bouzid catches Tunisian society in 2010 at the eve of the Jasmine Revolution otherwise known as the Arab Spring. Her film received multiple awards from international festivals. It captures the will of a freedom hungry youth ready to sacrifice their lives.  On December 17, 2010, news from all over the world, reported the desperate act of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi who, by setting himself on fire, triggered the revolt.

 In all instances of films portraying youth, the message seems to encourage young people to express themselves, to find their roots that are so essential to their identities to fight alienation from the political, religious and societal environment.

More specifically to youth, from February 21st to March 7th, Cinéfranco organizes its annual youth Festival. Its angle is to inspire teachers to motivate their students to write reviews, to discuss about topics relevant to their lives. We offer the teachers an educational kit that covers a large range of topics, language exercises, themes for research and discussion. We also encourage the students to write a review of the film they screened. We give out prizes with gifts (books, cinema tickets, DVDs of French films, etc.) and certificates of merit for all who do not win a prize.

donna g: Thanks to CF, I've had the pleasure of seeing the work of Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine. Could you please introduce this duo to my readers?

Marcelle: The famous Isabelle Adjani once called Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine “cosmic twins”. They are satirists, actors, scriptwriters and filmmakers. Their work reflects their sense of poetry, nuttiness and offbeat humour. This creative pair shot zany films like the road movie Mammuth (Cinéfranco 2011showed it to a full house) with Gérard Depardieu or Le Grand soir with Benoît Poelvoorde and Albert Dupontel.
I love the way Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine blend humour with gravity in their deep observation of life and society. As you see their films you cannot help laughing at what appears to be absurd then when you think of it, you appreciate the truthfulness of their approach.

Gérard Depardieu defined them best. He said “Kervern is an actor, Delépine a lampoonist; their films, a kind of comic strip that is more cartoonish than realistic (…) Their pains and vulnerability hold them together. And that suffering belongs to the French society today where we are less and less uncertain of things to come. In Saint Amour few people know what to do, few people have goals in their lives. “Life is a field, you have to plough a furrow” that’s just what my character, a farmer, says. Benoît and Gustave have a prophetic sense of social realities. Their films feel real. They consist of stories never of “scenes”

Don't be shy about your high school French, or lack of French because all films are subtitled in English, so pick a genre you like in your first language and explore the Francophone world through film! Discover more films on the website.
Tickets: $10/$8 for students and seniors (60+) with ID
Venue: Spadina Theatre, 24 Spadina Road

Photos courtesy of Cinéfranco

Monday, 12 September 2016

TIFF16 Day 5: Lion, (re)ASSIGNMENT, Julieta and a monk

Five days into TIFF16 and I'm exhausted. Its a happy tired for most of us who cover the festival, because we love film and we want others to love film too, which is why we share what we've been up to. We want to communicate the passion that is in the air around the central hub at King and John streets, the cinemas, and the stages that show the films and host the conversations.

Yesterday, I began my morning standing in the rush line on Queen Street, around the corner from the Elgin Theatre (called the Visa Screening Room during TIFF) waiting to see if I could get into the public screening of Lion, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. I was number 78 in the line but I got in and had a bird's eye view of the screen from my lovely single seat next to a column in the balcony.

I rarely cry at the movies, but Lion got me in end. Upon sharing this shocking news on social media some friends of mine quickly let me know that they teared up too. This from a feel good movie where we know the ending! The film is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, an Indian boy adopted by  a Tasmanian couple after being lost at  a train station. Years later the man searches for and finds his home using Google Earth. What makes the film so engaging is the continual connection between the young Saroo played heart-touching innocence by Sunny Pawar (Satyajit Ray would have loved him!) and the anguished, guilt-ridden man he becomes (played by  Dev Patel). Later today, I'll be speaking with composers Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka about the film's music.

After a bite and a glimpse of the winning Jays'  game at the Friar and Firkin (where I discovered that I get a discount on food with my TICF membership card--woohoo), I headed up the now-working escalators ( a drama for another time) at the Scotiabank Theatre to stand in line for the  press and industry screening of Walter Hill's (re)ASSIGNMENT. I was cautious about this one because its a revenge story about a hitman who wakes up a woman after he is operated by an insane doctor: firstly, Michelle Rodrigues,a non-trans actor plays the lead role of Frank and secondly, I wondered if there would be running jokes about the trans experience. If there are protest that the Frank role wasn't cast by a trans actor, I understand, but I must tell you that Michelle does an excellent job of retaining the mental masculine identity despite the gender switch forced upon him by scientist and self-proclaimed artist, Dr. Rachel Ray, played with clinical dispassion by Sigourney Weaver. Rounding out the main trio of actors is Tony Shaloub, as the psychiatrist who is charged with determining Ray's fitness for parole. The exchanges between Weaver and Shaloub is like a chess match between a computer and a human, with the computer taunting its opponent on its inability to ever be as smart as it.

A quick streetcar ride and back to the Elgin Theatre for the North American première of Julieta, directed by Pedro Almodovar. Its such a pleasure to watch a  film by a sure-handed director. Adapted from three short stories by award-winning writer, Alice Munro, Julieta is a mother-daughter tale that deals with the theme of loss and guilt. The film is presented in flashbacks and forwards with the role of young Julieta being played by newcomer, Adriana Ugarte and middle-aged Julieta by Emma Suarez. In the small but pivotal role of housekeeper for Julieta and her husband Xion, is Almadovor regular, Rossey De Palma. De Palma and Ugarte were both present for the intro and Q & A session, and what delight they both were. They love Toronto and intend to buy Alice Munro books in Canada.

I loved this film, the acting, the locations (from coastal waters to urban Madrid), and the miser-en-scene, so vital in an Almodovar film. I think someone needs to market " Almodovar red". Other palettes in the film include the joyful and sorrowful blue and restrained white. In form and to a certain extent content, this film reminded me most of All About My Mother. Julieta is a fine film worthy of multiple viewings: you're guaranteed to see something new every time.

Photo Credit: All stills courtesy of TIFF