Friday, 21 August 2015

Why is Rockabilly Photographer Liisa Morton All Hopped Up?

Liisa Morton outside The Black Cat Gallery, Toronto
photo by donna g
donna g: Your debut show and Zine are called All Hopped Up!, so we have to talk about the cars. How did you capture the shot entitled Highway, in San Francisco?

Highway by Liisa Morton
LIISA MORTON: I was travelling with the Swanx car club of Vallejo, CA. We had been at the Billetproof car show inHayward, CA earlier that day and were heading back home to San Francisco. I was riding along the highway with Swanx member, Guido, when I heard Steve O coming up from behind us. I quickly scrambled to get my camera and took a few quick shots. It was really tricky to do because we were all driving so fast! This photo was later used for the cover of the Royal Crowns' CD, "After Dark"

dg: Maya’s Ford Fairlane is a classic, and she looks so cool driving it. Do you know how long she’s had it, and does she drive it all the time or just at conventions? 

Maya by Liisa Morton

LM: Maya has owned her beautiful 1964 Ford Fairlane Sport Coupe 500 since about 1985. She did all of the bodywork and paint on this car, which she calls, "Kitten".  She still drives it and other classic cars too, including a 1961 Ford F100 step side truck, a 1952 Dodge Coronet, and a 1959 Willys Wagon. Her commuter car is a 2004 Golden Anniversary Ford Thunderbird.

Maya  started an all female car club with her Mom, Vida Lee in the early 1990's called "The Cherry Bombs". The idea behind their club was to have girls join who had expertise in a certain area, such as, auto body and paint, transmissions, or brakes, etc. they then supported and helped one another without having to rely on guys to help them out. 

I spent the day with Maya and Vida Lee in 2001 driving around San Francisco. Both Maya and Vida Lee are dj's and  we stopped off at a couple of their favourite records shops where I took some photos. They are two of the most interesting and inspiring women you'd ever like to meet!

dg: The cover photo really captures the joy of the scene. Tell me more about Misti and Janna and whose car they are posing on. 

 Misti &  Janna by Liisa Morton

LM: I just love Misti and Janna in this photo! They are so cute; they're having the best time. They had driven all the way from Texas to Marion, IN, in a beautiful baby blue '55 Chevy, that belongs to their good friend Amy, (who still owns it to this day). We all met at the James Dean Rockabilly Rebel Weekend, in Marion, IN, back in 1995. We struck up a conversation and they told me of their car mishaps that had occurred along the way, including tire trouble and a complete loss of reverse, which meant that they could then only park sideways! At one point during our conversation, Janna grabbed me by the hand and we all ran out to the parking lot to see the infamous baby blue Chevy. We chatted and I took a few photos. Love these gals!
dg: How did you end up in Marion?

LM: I ended up going to my first Rockabilly weekender in 1995, in Marion, IN after seeing a small ad in a roots music fanzine. I have always loved Rockabilly, but had not been to many shows up to that point. It's funny now thinking about it because I don't drive and had to take a plane, bus and taxi to get there! I can't explain it; when I saw that small ad, I just knew I had to go!

dg: You have several shots of people at home. How did you establish such an intimate relationship with your subjects?

Jessica & Mini Pearl by Liisa Morton  

LM: When I first started going to Rockabilly weekenders back in 1995, there was pretty much one taking place every month all through the Summer & into the Fall. There has always been a great sense of community and camaraderie at these weekenders & It was so much fun to reconnect and get to know people from all of the world, with similar interests. Over the years I have gotten to know some amazing people!

dg: What is the story behind the shot of the woman looking up at stage Rudopho’s in Silver Lake California?

Rudolpoho's by Liisa Morton

LM: I took this photo in 2001 at Rudolpho's, which was a very popular club in Silver Lake, CA. at the time. I had heard that there was a really great Rockabilly night there and decided to check it out. I went with Claudia, a girl I had photographed over the years. When we arrived the place was hopping with everyone dancing to a mix of Rockabilly and Doo-Wop. 

While the band played, I took a few photos of two girls talking to one another, near the stage. All of a sudden one of the girl's turned towards the stage, while a man near her threw his hand up into the air, and another raised his drink. It all happened in a split second!

dg: Dames in Dis Dress is such a fantastic shot. I love the way you managed to capture the three women in the light.

Dames in Dis Dress by Liisa Morton

LM: Thank you very much! The ladies in this shot, were a burlesque group at the time called, "Dames in Dis'Dress", In this shot, I used a flash & the background was darkened by the awesome photographer Steben Alexander, who printed this shot for me.

dg: One thing that strikes me is the number of couples in All Hopped Up. Do people meet each other as singles at weekenders or is this a lifestyle that couples enter into together?

José & Viyani by Liisa Morton

LM: A lot of people go as couples to weekenders but some couples have met at weekenders too.

dg:  Most of your photos are taken in the US, but you have a few pictures of Toronto in the Zine. Besides obviously being smaller, how would you describe the Toronto scene?

Heather & Santiago by Liisa Morton

LM: The Toronto Rockabilly scene is super fun and has grown a lot since I first started going to shows in the mid-1990's. Everyone makes sure to support the scene, as much as they can. At the zine launch you would have seen a picture of Johnny; he has been involved in the scene for many years and is a local dj. Heather(above) works at a vintage reproduction clothing store and has been known to sing a kickass Elvis song or two! 

There are always lots of great events going on which can be found on, which lists all things vintage and retro. There are lots of awesome bands that play in town such as Tennessee Voodoo Coupe, The Millwinders, The Royal Crowns, the Swingin' Blackjacks, Alistair Christl, The Hellbent Rockers and the Greasemarks. There are also lots of awesome vintage shops around like Flashback and Cabaret, as well shops that sell vintage reproduction dresses like Loveless, Rosie the Rebel and Damzels.

dg: Where can people buy your work?

Liisa Morton
photo by donna g
LM: My zine, All Hopped Up is available for purchase in Toronto at Kustom Life at 1364 Queen St. East (Greenwood Queen).  I am also in the process of setting up an etsy shop on my blog. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

SummerWorks Interview:The Templeton Philharmonic's An Evening in July

Briana Templeton (left) and Gwynne Phillips
 aka The Templeton Philharmonic
photo courtesy of SummerWorks
donna g: In your program notes you write that An Evening in July was “Inspired by the cult documentary Grey Gardens and Helene de Rothschild’s 1972 Surrealist Ball." Could you please elaborate  for those not familiar with those works?

Gwynne Phillips: Of course! Grey Gardens is a 1975 American documentary about two reclusive upper class women, a mother and daughter named Edith and Edie Beale, who lived in a decaying mansion in East Hampton. They were the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Onassis. We were very much inspired by their story and relationship, and our venue fit the aesthetic perfectly. The Surrealist Ball was hosted by socialite Helene de Rothschild in 1972, and was essentially an elaborate star-studded ball with celebrities like Salvador Dali to Audrey Hepburn in attendance. Look it up online you will not be disappointed!

dg: Briana, how would describe May?
Briana Templeton: She's June's sister, and they live together as recluses in a strange, crumbling mansion. They're both well-moneyed and neither of them have jobs or much to do except pick each other apart with witty repartee. But they live in a creepy, "out of time" place.

She's a fairly narcissistic person... She's always been very materialistic, and has a really brassy, loud veneer which she uses to hide her inner pain. Through out the play she is less and less successful! BT

 dg: Gwynne, how would you describe June?

GP: The character of June exists in two different timeframes; her life before her sister died, and her life afterward. During the play she simultaneously lives both, replaying the night of the party over and over again in her mind - hoping that maybe one time her sister will survive. She lives out her days alone, trying to remember the good times they had together. But on a more surface level, she is just a manipulative flirt who claims to love parties and fashion.

dg: How did you decide who would play which character?

GP: We often write a dynamic which  involves my character being haunted or plagued by Briana in some way. We're not really sure why, it just seems to always turn out that way.

photo by donna g
dg: What was it about Thom Stoneman that made you cast him as the  manservant?

GP: We have known Thom Stoneman for many years and have worked on several different plays together. We had originally wanted him to just be the bartender for this show, but we thought it would be more interesting to expand his character to be part of the narrative. Also, he looks the part. 
dg: I loved the 1970s set décor and your costumes. Could you please share your team’s process in creating this world?

BT: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. Gwynne and I knew we wanted to create something from that era - and throw in touches of surrealism. While we were writing and developing the look of the show, we watched a lot of movies from the era - like "Valley of the Dolls" and "Grey Gardens". Then, we scoured thrift shops in Toronto and New York to find things that fit the look! Pretty fun. I think co-designing the set informed the script a lot too. Also, our stage manager Vanessa Purdy found some GREAT 70's self help books for the set.

dg: An Evening in July, is staged indoors and out  at St. George the Martyr Anglican Church (Music Gallery). How have you been dealing with the challenges of various weather conditions? 

GP: This is the second time we have produced this show. The first time was for the Toronto Fringe Festival last year. In over 20 performances in this space, we have never been rained out. If it's a rainy day, the skies somehow clear right before be performance. It's very eerie!

dg: With this play being interactive, you have to rely and adapt to audience response. What has that been like for you? For example, you had a matinee and evening performance last Saturday. Could you please share how your audiences differed,  and how you dealt mentally  with such a quick turnaround in performance?

BT: We developed a lot of the script through improv originally, so we feel very comfortable improvising as May and June which helps. The audiences each night can really change the feel of the show. Sometimes it can feel like a pure drama, and sometimes people laugh the whole time! That was our intention-the malleability is really exciting as actors, and our audiences seem to like it too... You never know what's going to happen.

dg: Do you have any projects lined up after SummerWorks, or will you be sitting back and  sipping martinis once you've shrugged off the polyester?

GP: Ha! We do love martinis. But we also have a few excited things coming up this fall! We are creating an art installation for Scotiabank's Nuit Blanche entitled, "Lillian" in October, as well as taking part in an exciting charity event called The Generator hosted by Chris Hadfield on Oct 28th at Massey Hall!
An Evening in July (Final Performance)
Sunday, August 16, 8:00 PM
St. George the Martyr AnglicanChurch (Music Gallery)
197 John Street (north of Queen, behind the Art Gallery of Ontario)
Tickets $15
No latecomers
Find out more about The Templeton Philharmonic at


Thursday, 6 August 2015

SummerWorks 2015: Women!

SummerWorks Performance Festival
August 6 - 16, 2015
Missing the Toronto Fringe Festival, well, satisfy your love of theate and add some dance, live art and music to your days and or evenings at SummerWorks 2015! The 11 day festival kicks off tonight at various venues west of Yonge Street, and branching north and south of Bathurst. The festival is in its 25th year, and plays are selected by jury. 

There are a few plays by women that caught my eye. Here are a few that I intend to check out. Be sure to share your thoughts on these and other plays, by commenting on this post or at, or on twitter at @tmtmshow. Let's inspire and engage each other.

Written and Created by Gwynne Phillips and Briana Templeton; Performed by Gwynne Phillips , Briana Templeton and Thom Stoneman; Stage Managed by Vanessa K. Purdy 

Yes, July has passed, but what intrigues me about this play is I like to mix things up when it comes to my venues, and if I can see something set outside, then I'll give it a try. This performance is set at St. George the Martyr Church on John Street. This sentence drew me in "Inspired by the cult documentary Grey Gardens and Helene de Rothschild’s 1972 Surrealist Ball, An Evening in July gives audience members a chance to attend their surreal fete as guests."  I can't resist a surreal fest, can you? My imagination is running wild, so I hope this is really dark and really funny.

Written by Andrea Scott; Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams; Performed by Sascha Cole, Peyson Rock, and Akosua Amo-Adem; Stage Managed by Farnoosh Talebpour; Lighting Design by Jennifer Lennon; Sound Design by Verne Good; Costume and Set Design by Laura Gardner; Produced by Call Me Scotty Productions

She looks so darn sad, doesn't she? Yep, this picture really spoke to me, then when I say that the production company was Call Me Scotty, my trekker brain cells said beam me up. (Yes, I know that's not how it's spelled in Star Trek).  This treatment of the nanny/employer dynamics promises an influence of the West African spider god, Anansi. How will magic realism play out in this all too common tale of employee oppression and "modern day slavery"? Stay tuned...

Written and Performed by Ngozi Paul; Directed and Dramaturged by d'bi.young anitafrika; Choreographed and Assistant Directed by Roger C. Jeffrey; Dramaturged by Birgit Schreyer Duarte; Musical Composition and Collaboration by L'Oqenz and Waleed Abdulhamid; Costume Design by Jeannette Linton

I honestly did not select this play because I wanted to contrast slavery (Better Angels) with emancipation. I just wanted to see the amazing Ngozi Paul (da kink in her hair). This play about identity offers a journey into "a musical landscape using movement, sound, dance and projection while reexamining our relationship with ourselves, our sex and the dark matter that binds us all."  I am so there. Plus any play that references Sarah Basrtman, is one that I want to see. Don't know who Sarah is? That's why I want you to see it. 

adapted and directed by lauren gillis and ted witzel; set concept by camie koo; costumes by amanda wong; sound by christopher stanton; video by wesley mckenzie; production managed by christopher ross and amanda wong; performed by kaleb alexander, rong fu, tyler hagemann, richard partington, g. kyle shields, and eve wylden

Here is a bit of the description: "the marquise of O— is pregnant, but doesn’t know how it happened. was it the immaculate conception or an ordinary sex crime? she puts an ad in the newspaper to find out." Are you kidding me?! Of course, I want to find out how this happened and who the father is. Plus, the set design is by Camie Koo, and she is talented beyond belief, and her Dora Award wins and nominations are no fluke. It's put on by the red light district and this promises to be, let's say, far from normal:-)

All photos courtesy of 

I was reviewing past coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and realized that as good as it is to use social media, I m...