In Running Colour

Colour runs have become all the rage, popping up across North America. It was only a matter of time before it came to town. The inaugural event from Run Waterloo raising money for Big Brothers and Sisters was called In Running Colour.

inRunningColourSaturday at Columbia Lake and it’s picture perfect. Clear skies, light breeze, no humidity. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. We’re here in part because K had, at the beginning of summer, penned a summer bucket list of things she wanted to do over the break. Bowling, shopping in Toronto, movie all-nighter sort of thing. With school looming ever closer we checked the list to see what’s left and find paint fight. Not sure how she planned on accomplishing that, but In Running Colour fit the bill, saved ourselves a potential mess at home and got me out to my first Run Waterloo race with K and her friend.

So I’m armed with a bag of pigment wandering the field chucking purple at complete strangers. With colour in hand I was looking for others holding yellow, pink, blue or green hoping for some reciprocal colour. Tiny puffs of paint dotted the field as participants strategically slapped some tentative colour on themselves. Tinting hair, speckling their shoulders. Volunteers armed with water were spritzing attendants in an effort to hold the pigment.

At 10:00 they kicked off the first heat. We were part of the second and pushed through the starting gate to make our 4k fun run around Columbia Lake. People ambled along, power walked, and strolled. Completely un-timed it was a casual affair, a perfect introduction to what a timed race could be like. An ideal way to set the hook.

People chatted amicably, admiring their artistically paint-flecked shirts. All that changed by the first colour station. Scattered throughout the course, the colour stations were populated with volunteers heaping handfuls of the coloured cornstarch at the ready to pelt passing participants. From a distance you could only see an opaque cloud of pink, the sidewalk completely covered as runners ran through the first colour station. By the end of the race we’d hit green, blue, yellow and purple and doused ourselves in paint. I myself had thrown and been on the receiving end of so much paint it looked like I had Gargamelled a platoon of Smurfs and I still found green pigment in my ears by evening …don’t even ask about blowing my nose.

Check out the photo page and you’ll find a collection of blissed-out, ecstatic faces surrounded by a riot of colour. Racers may sniff at such an unstructured race but this is how you get people out for potential future, timed runs. What a blast.

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Kim’s Convenience

My folks never ran a convenience store. They remained resolutely Buddhist in their faith. They even distanced themselves from the Korean community in town, uncomfortable with the the men’s penchant for drink and the women’s need to measure themselves (and their kids, clothes and kimchi) against each other.

inschoiAnd yet the play I saw at the Young Theatre this weekend was intimately familiar. I’m glad I got to see it live. I’ve read the play twice but it can only hint at how good the real deal is. It’s making the rounds so if you get the chance – check it out. It is everything I want from a play. So freaking good!

Kim’s Convenience is the Toronto based, Korean run convenience store the story centers on. The set design is immediately familiar. It is every family owned corner store you’ve ever been in with it’s peg board assortment of items hanging by the cigarette wall. Condoms next to scouring sponges. Metal shelves lead to the back holding off-brand paper towels and odd cans of food.

Paul Sun-Hyng Lee is the titular Mr. Kim who is the core of the play itself. He is a huge presence on stage and ably anchor’s the show. He owns this character and maintains the perfect tone throughout. It’s no easy task playing for broad laughs and then to big emotions. He’s physical and expressive without devolving into caricature. He is Appa.

If I had to complain, it’s only to say that Mr. Kim sounds like a white person riffing a Korean accent. Maybe they clipped it to allow for better apprehension. While he is every Korean dad – he just doesn’t quite sound like them. Jean Yoon on the other hand is pitch perfect. Her love of singing, deep wells of quiet strength battling against sorrow, her warbling voice modulated by emotion. It’s a small part but she mines it for gold and nails it.

It’s a tightly packed gem of a play. Maybe too tight – as one reviewer notes: “it could be accused of sacrificing truth to reconciliation” and it wraps up and resolves itself in a brief third act. It’s like every Korean made piece of electronics – smaller, faster, familiar. It’s still absolutely brilliant.

Ins Choi’s play is a love letter to his folks “and to all first-generation immigrants who call Canada their home.”  …and it joins Clerks as my all time favorite piece of art staged in a convenience store.


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The Book of Mormon

bomIt’s the hottest show in town. Tickets are completely sold out.

I’ll say this. The Toronto showing of The Book of Mormon has probably the strongest cast of any musical I’ve seen. I’ve got the original Broadway soundtrack and the Toronto staging blows it out of the water. Elder Price and Nabulungi are phenomenal. Elder Cunningham’s physicality is spot on. The set design is also some of the best I’ve seen. Who would have guessed the boys from South Park could pitch the ideal Broadway spectacle.

And the music! From the opening refrain of Hello! to Hasa Diga Eebowai (the plays defiant middle finger thrown at the Lion King’s Hakuna Matata) the music is pure Rodgers and Hammerstein – overblown and earnest. Same goes for the choreography which is, and I say this in the spirit of praise, incredibly gay.

So it’s disappointing that much of the humour fell flat. Many of the jokes felt cheap and easy. I admit I’m a sucker for maggots in my scrotum and General Butt-fucking Naked – easy laughs – but then I get lost trying to parse AIDS, gullible Africans, genital mutilation and white saviours delivering lost black souls in the Dark Continent. Yes, I know it’s the guys who are responsible for Team America teaming up with the guy from Avenue Q but my issue isn’t with the irreverence but the uneven tone. Still mostly hilarious – even a straight up recounting of the Mormon origin story is deliciously funny and makes me improbably wish for Scientology the Musical.

And it’s not like they’re even all that harsh towards Mormonism. In the end it’s about the power of faith regardless of what you choose to believe. Though even faith has it’s limits. Our show program featured several full-page ads for the Book of Mormon (not the play but the “third” testament of Jesus Christ) featuring tag lines like “You’ve seen the play… Now Read The Book” Mormon’s looking to make a few new converts from the theatre going throng – now that is funny.

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bangThe nice thing about Resistance is that no-one is eliminated from the game. Not so with Bang! Coming from the world of poker where, not only can you be ousted early in the game but there’s a financial loss as well, player elimination is old hat. For us Bang! set the hook for social, card-based games meant for more than 4 players.

The mechanic is easy enough to explain and it’s perfect for non-gamers to get into. Even better is our variant as a drinking game where every “Bang!” means a round for the table. Glasses are raised as shots are fired. It’s the Wild West so plan your poison carefully.

Identities are dealt and kept hidden except for the Sheriff who reveals himself from the start. The Deputies protects the Sheriff who the Outlaws are gunning for, and the Renegade wants to be the last man standing. The Renegade plays like a Deputy early in the game but switches to Outlaw once the numbers are whittled down.

Players draw cards that provide opportunities for action. Shots can be taken, but only to those seated next to you until you get a better weapon. Miss cards can be played to thwart attacks, life points can be regained, cards can be stolen and there are a wide assortment of other modifiers that influence outcomes. There’s also a ton of opportunity to introduce your own house rules which ensure replayability and tweaking appropriate to the audience. Yes, it’s very much the luck of the draw but there is room for strategy.

Our first few games were a bit of a mess. Everyone hoarded cards until one intrepid gunslinger fired a shot into the crowd. HulkPunchFrom there everyone dogpiled on each other and the sheriff emerged unscathed – no one willing to reveal themselves as the outlaw by taking a shot. Subsequent games revealed a bit more cagey play with alliances being forged, fueled by lies and misdirection. We’ve liked it enough to grab the Dodge City expansion which adds some new gameplay elements including the Ghost Town card where dead players can return to life for a single round to exact their revenge.

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The Resistance

resistanceA simple game of hidden identity. The resistance seeks to overthrow the empire but hidden in their midst are enemy spies looking to thwart their efforts. We brought this into the fold to accommodate a larger number of players (it plays up to 10) It’s a game of social deduction that favors manipulation and deception …and lots of yelling.

Over the weekend we played a 6 player game with 2 spies. Cards are dealt revealing each individual’s role and then everyone closes their eyes. Spies then open their eyes to acknowledge each other before everyone opens their eyes. From there it’s unfounded accusations, bald-faced lying, backstabbing and loud confusion.

Teams are put together to send on “missions” Spies attempt to fail these and subsequently information is gathered. When a team of two goes out and it fails – someone is obviously the spy – but that’s when the denials and finger-pointing begin. In 5 short games it’s up to the resistance to suss out who the spies are and complete 3 successful missions.

For the first few games, the spies run roughshod. It takes some time to determine what to look for. What teams get approved, and how they get picked reveal a great deal to the observant. You need your wits about you – it doesn’t lend itself to a drinking game as easily as Bang! for example. That and I am the wrong person to lead an insurgency.

It’s deliciously satisfying to reveal yourself as the spy when you’ve built such trust within the game. Even more satisfying to win as the resistance, sussing out the cancer in your midst.

The game also doesn’t work when people aren’t totally aware of the mechanics. We’ve had hair-pulling lamentations when a resistance player outed another resistance player as a spy “just to shake things up a bit“. We’ve had a complete breakdown of the game when a resistance player accidentally “failed” a mission too. But the game plays quickly enough, allowing for a couple rounds in less than an hour.

It’s fun to pick out an evil micro smirk from a spy or simply call out those that aren’t as practiced in the art of deception. I’ve discovered that my daughter is scary good at concealing her true motives. Frightening really.

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I listen to music in compressed mp3 format through crummy iPod ear buds or piped through an underpowered Bluetooth speaker. The best place I have for listening to music has to compete with the whine of my POS Mazda sub-compact engine.

It wasn’t always that way. Music used to be a thing. Blowing out my eardrums with headphones the size of coffee cans strapped to my enormous noggin or in front of 4 foot tall wood cabinet speakers at a volume where I could feel the audio waves.

zeppThat’s what Classic Albums Live: Led Zeppelin was like at the Centre in the Square. Heavy fucking Metal. This was the Hammer of the Gods. Music meant to be played at 11. Sure they’re a cover band but what chops. When the singer ambled onstage someone from the audience yelled “Hey! you’re not Robert Plant!” but after a single song that anonymous heckler had to jokingly admit “OK, maybe you are!

I’m just a gushing fanboy at this point. These guys aren’t playing Led Zeppelin live – they’re faithfully recreating album tracks from the Led Zeppelin oeuvre in a live setting. This meant up to 4 guitarists onstage with a keyboardist, drummer and singer to recreate tracks. It makes one wish one enjoyed extracurricular plant-based habits to further enhance the show. I’m pretty sure the crowd of boomers regretted not raiding their kids stash beforehand.

I’m a convert. Next time these guys are in town – whether it’s as The Who or Pink Floyd – I’m there. It’s music the way it was meant to be listened to.

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What is the Rock is Cooking?

wm29Watched WrestleMania 29 last night. I know, hipster kryptonite – akin to admitting you listen to Nickelback on your Zune.

It’s the Superbowl of wrestling (they’re already booking for WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans) and the 80,000 fans at the MetLife stadium in New York would agree. It also means that in the past month I’ve watched a UFC and WrestleMania pay-per-view. Apparently I’m paying money to watch sweaty men touch each other, really hard.

What’s frightening in the case of WrestleMania is how up to speed I already am despite not having watched a match in well over a decade. Triple H is now 44 and The Undertaker is pushing 50 and they’re still getting slammed against the canvas and thrown onto tables. Tough work.

I loved watching the Brock Lesnar / Triple H match. Lesnar’s a former UFC heavyweight champion who typifies the statement “Built like a brick shithouse” fighting someone 10 years his senior. I’m supposed to believe this no-necked behemoth who has taken down the best the UFC has to offer is going to be reeling after a series of wrestling head slaps?

It was actually fun to watch (in the horribly self-aware, ironic douche way) I love how a Tea-Party right wing Texan is actually a villain fighting a Mexican (who looks like he’s Italian) You know the WWE talent scouts are fervently searching for any Asian to play a North Korean bad guy. I’m thinking “The Great Leader’ with a finishing move called the Gamjatang! I love that even in death, great characters are still beholden to the franchise – with Paul Bearer’s “ashes” and urn playing a continued critical role. And I love that the title fight featured John Cena who has fulfilled 300 Make-a-Wishes – more than anyone who has ever worked with the organization. Pretty damn impressive.

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pandNot a game to be played when slightly inebriated. Especially when it falls to you to explain the game to others. We brought this one out for #TableTopDay and the learning curve can allow one’s dictatorial tendencies to reveal themselves as you “help” your teammates across the board. “We need to hook up in Essen so you can give me Montreal. You need to fly the researcher over from Khartoum and then eradicate the third cube in Hong Kong. Here let me take care of all your turns for you.” Hey, I’m only trying to save the world – maybe if you people would wash your damn hands once in awhile we wouldn’t be in this predicament.

We picked up Pandemic to introduce a new game dynamic. This is a collaborative effort where we either all win or die horribly trying. K and I have played a couple times now and at 2 players it’s certainly easier. (And I’m far more cooperative given we’re both familiar with the game) We’re disease fighting ninja, eradicating the zombie plague and Ebola like it ain’t no thing. With a larger group it gets harder even though we get to draw on a wider pool of character traits like quarantine specialist and dispatcher. Even so, I’m still only playing on regular strength. Legendary ups the ante to 6 epidemic cards from our usual 4.

It doesn’t take long for things to escalate quickly. While you’re busy dispatching one disease a bad set of cards can have another virus cascade into repeated outbreaks and it just keeps ratcheting up the pressure. It’s a lot of fun and can do well to soothe feelings of resentment after playing other more adversarial games where no one will give you any bricks for sheep or sees all access to Houston choked off.

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Playing with Giant Balls

K was lucky enough to experience the Blue Man Group as a total noob. A bunch of painted guys and a brief commercial was her only information going in. She loved it.

bluemanIt defies preconceived notions of entertainment, melding rock concert with magic, theatre and comedy. The Blue Men use up to 78 gallons of blue paint a week and over the course of a year “consume” over 1,820 pounds of Captain Crunch and 2,900 Twinkies (though I wonder what sort of generic alternative they’ll move to now). I remember seeing it with Chris at the Panasonic Theatre and both of us thinking “Damn, our kid would love this!” When I found out they were in Kitchener I snapped up tickets.

It’s been a few years and they’ve refined the show since. Some new tunes and the introduction of the GiPads (Giant iPads). It’s still a visual and aural spectacle.

Building to a grand finale – the audience was suitably coy and begrudgingly stood to shake their booty at the admonishment of the show announcer. This is KW after all – not a lot of moving of badonkadonks, squash tarts, bounce houses, jiggle twins, jelly pots or flap jacks. But when you throw out a dozen giant lighted balls and cover the audience with paper fireworks and streamers it’s like catnip. It’s a shared sense of euphoria and the perfect way to end the show.

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The Scottish Play: Kimonos for Kilts

Macbeth is my favourite Shakespearian play. O’erleaping ambition and the consequences of an unfettered ego. Karma’s a bitch man.

I’ve been hooked since the first time I saw it on the Stratford stage. I had done a perfunctory reading for my high school class and was fully prepared to bitch about the antiquated language live. Instead, I found myself wincing as Lady Macbeth descended into madness. I can still hear the sound of Lucy Peacock’s nails raking the boards as she cried out “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. O, O, O

macbethSince then I’ve seen it several times in various settings. And now I can add Japanese kabuki to the list. It was Macbeth at the KW Little Theatre – another cozy little spot in town that I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never been to before.

Kudos to Jonathan Dietrich on his directorial debut. It’s amateur theatre brilliantly done. The kabuki theme, that could have been all affectation, proved effective instead. Jonathan culls several passages from the play to bring it’s length down and focus on the drama. (though I still missed the night porter scene) The extra room is put to good use with slower pacing and some lingering pauses. I loved the seppuku mime that perfectly informed the execution of the Thane of Cawdor.

The fight choreography was great thanks to Nick Oddson. The actors clearly put in the hours working on this. Even the Stratford production I saw a few years back (featuring Colm Feore) set in colonial Africa seemed far too staged and ridiculously heavy limbed in comparison. And finally, my seat mates who have never read the play and struggled a bit with the language, truly enjoyed this production. I guess that’s recommendation enough. $15 a ticket is some killer value.

asianwowWe had a pair of Asian girls in the front row ahead of us. Beside them, tucked in the corner, was a chair fashioned from bamboo for one of the three weird sisters to repose on when not onstage. They would utter menacing whispers at key points in the play and were a constant presence throughout. To while away the time between speaking, witch #1 would crane her neck forward and glassy-eyed, wordlessly stare at her seat mate. With her painted white face and dark rimmed eyes it was like watching some Japanese horror play out in front of me.

The play is sold out unfortunately. A testament to favourable reviews, and frankly an excellent social media campaign following the play’s progress on Tumblr.

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