Care to Join me for a little, Sonata?

There’s nothing like a woman who is desperate for a child. Make that woman Mennonite, and you have a naughty tale on your hands.

The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz,
 staged at the Rachael Browne Theatre through Theatre Projects Manitoba, is written by former CreComm instructor, Armin Wiebe. The story is set on the outskirts of a Mennonite Village, in the home of Obrum and Susch Kehler, and chronicles the story of Susch having a baby. Low German is used throughout the play – a common element in Wiebe’s work.  During a seminar, Wiebe said he could “make the language sing.” And while the actors and actresses did an incredible job with the accent and language, as I understood the humour without understanding the language, Wiebe made it easy with likable and quirky characters.

A cozy set for The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz

Obrum Kehler (Tom Keenan, of Zooey and Adam fame) is a hard working, loving husband who has, ahem issues in the bedroom. While it may be fun trying, there is still no baby. But he remains a positive character, thinking of a way to solve this little problem. It is Obrum who brings home the piano, and in turn Mr. Beethoven Blatz (Eric Nyland, played the piano beautifully), a refugee of the Russian revolution – who hears the music in his head, sharing space with his thoughts of a lover named Sonya. He is a nuisance in some sense, taking forever to fix a broken piano and teaching Susch to play. And in another, the glue of the story, each character’s desire relates to him in some way (discussed later)

Susch Kehler (Tracy Penner) is wanting. She wants a child, her husband home with her, a new house, Beethoven to stay – Beethoven to go. In many ways I found this was Susch’s story, which was confirmed when Wiebe remarked in a talk back that the play originated for an almost-novel, which had been written from Susch’s perspective. And then there’s Teen (Daria Puttaert, also of Zooey and Adam fame), the village midwife who matched Susch with Obrum, knowing he wasn’t able to give her a child. Through her initial body language  – sitting on the bench with her legs wide apart – Teen had a different presence about her. Not long after, Teen’s budding love for Susch comes to the surface, and culminates in an intimate silent moment helping Susch into a red silk dress.

Blatz is pivotal throughout as Obrum looks to him to solve the issue, Susch takes it upon herself to use Blatz for her own means while he in turn uses her as his muse. And for Teen, Blatz is another male presence in Susch’s life, and she isn’t happy about that. In one scene Teen tells Susch she’d be the one giving her a child if she had the means – er, equipment.

The story dabbles with the biblical not only because it deals with Mennonites, but also in its over arching theme. Obrum (Abraham) and Susch (Sarah) are struggling to have children, much like their biblical name sakes who only became parents when they were close to 100 years old. Also, there is a connection in that Obrum is called to work away from home, just as God called to Abraham to leave his home – that upon returning, he would be rewarded with heirs to a great nation. But despite this subtext, there is nothing preachy or overly religious about the show – in fact there’s partial nudity and awkward sex on stage (pretend here).

Those Mennonites know how to put on a good show.

What I enjoyed the most about the talkback/ seminar with Wiebe is his willingness to discuss his writing process. Since 1996, The Moonlight Sonata of Beethoven Blatz has been reworked many times,  as a short story, an almost novel, and then a first draft play. Wiebe didn’t shy away from work shopping and rewriting, as discussed here.  Director Kim McCaw saw the first scenes of the play and decided he would direct it once the manuscript was developed. “The play was a trampoline for the actors. We would see which springs held and which didn’t, and fix it from there.”

Wiebe mentioned one of the things he didn’t consider while writing for stage were simple stage directions such as the lamp. “I had it turning off, but not on.” But directions are minimal in the script, and Wiebe himself said with confidence he loved the way the show turned out.

To view Wiebe’s fiction related to the play, see here.


Part Two: The Other Jon, And Stella

He had slinked through the aisles of McNally Robinson before the launch started, holding a chilled Stella Artois. It might have been his first, or perhaps a fourth.  After the applause from the first Jon died down, Jon Paul Fiorentino was introduced.

“My God you have a sexy voice,” Fiorentino remarked about Ball, taking two more sips from his Stella. “Some of you might remember me as the jackass who wrote Stripmalling.”

The audience laughed, myself very much included, even though I didn’t know anything about him.

Although I did take note of how the Stella humanized him; I still revere published authors.

Fiorentino was launching Indexical Elegies, a book of poetry dealing with anxieties and the human experience; heavily influenced by the late Robert Allen, a poet, publisher, and Fiorentino’s mentor.

“He taught us what to write, when we didn’t know what to write about. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him.”

In my notes from the launch I have written “he has an intriguing voice.” It wasn’t that, it was Fiorentino’s emotion and deceptively charming self-deprecation. Fiorentino brings up a review that said not one line of poetry from his book was memorable. 

“But really, that’s quite an accomplishment,” quips the poet.

Well I wrote one down, it stands alone on a page in my notebook –  

“shhh, there are poets trying to die.”

I don’t want to be cliché, but listening to Fiorentino was moving, and I felt sympathy toward this poet and his Stella, for he had lost someone who had helped him grow.  It’s weird to say, but I enjoyed his reading of Dying in Winnipeg, as it speaks volumes about the experience of living in this city – and, perhaps I’m being bold, but every Winnipegger carries around some angst – or wangst .

Here’s an excerpt, I laughed during the launch due to sixth line down…

Dying in Winnipeg

Don’t read me wrong –
I plan on dying in Winnipeg.

In a strange way I
posit Winnipeg is where everything always dies:

Grandfathers, clock radios, Chevrolets,
faith, journalists, fine-tip pens,

Earle Nelson, hockey dads,
your best friend from the old street.

As he left the stage I noticed Fiorentino wipe his eyes. It could very well be that a spec of dust made it past his glasses and settled on a spot near his eye. Or perhaps it’s the emotion and truth he has inked into the page fibers of Indexical Elegies manifesting itself.  

But that’s too cliché. He takes another sip of Stella.   

Part One: The Odd Ball

Part One: The Odd Ball

The intimate audience is seated at McNally Robinson Bookstore in Winnipeg. There are low murmurs and the brief interruption of an overhead announcement: “Amanda, party of three!”  The crowd quiets, the podium is taken.

Jonathan Ball is introduced as a number of marvellous things: a poet, an editor, a tapestry weaver, but — as the announcer says in a low, cautionary voice —  the “most unsettling of all, a moulder of young minds.”

I am one of those minds.

My first encounter with Jonathan Ball was in my university Creative Writing class. He spelt his name out with emphasis – it was JonathAn. He spoke fast and the class sat silently. He confidently wore a black shirt and dress pants – even though he leaned against the chalkboard a few times, leaving an impression of his shoulders. And brushed his pants accidentally, leaving chalky fingerprints.

I mention this now because at this weekend’s dual book launch of the Jons – the other being Jon Paul Fiorentino – I was left with a much different impression.

Ball took to the spotlight  and commenced the hometown launch of Clockfire:“A suite of poetic blueprints for imaginary plays that would be impossible to produce – plays in which, for example, the director burns out the sun, actors murder their audience, or the laws of physics are defiled.”

Any wonder why I can’t put it down? Or take the creepy smile off my face…

Since the book had been launched elsewhere before Winnipeg, Clockfire had already received reviews. Ball says that most have been positive but “taken out of context, would be negative.” Such as the reviewer who said that “if there is a Clockfire festival – don’t go.”

“People keep saying this is a horrific book – I disagree,” says Ball, who leaves a lot of the books interpretation to readers’ imagination. “If people say it’s disturbing, I tell them it’s not my doing.”

Ball says his favourite poem in the collection is The Play Begins, a poem I thoroughly enjoyed hearing read live. One of my favourites is  Autography – a poem that Ball wrote himself into.

            Minimalist set: small table, single chair, stack of books. An author enters to great applause. He folds a feathered quill, the picture of refinement. Smiling, a sly smile (so humble) – he winks at the absurdity of his elevated stature, or the stage.
            (Are there Clockfire festivals yet? The play is well-suited to open or close such festivals.)
            The author sits. The audience forms lines. He attempts grace. Signs books, shakes hands, smile widening. He remembers names, spells them all correctly and makes small talk while crafting witty inscriptions. He signs another copy for your mother. He answers all your questions with aplomb. He wets his quill, the signature in quick (but measured) strokes. The play continues until its author runs out of blood.  

Ball leaves the podium – “Ralph, party of one” – to raucous applause. This is only intermission.


Part Two: The Other Jon, and Stella.  

Wolfe in Sheep’s Clothing

So You Think You Can Dance Canada’s Jera Wolfe talks about what makes him hungry for dance, and what feeds his creativity.

It was supposed to be a typical Thursday night ballet class. Black tights and a body suit, cream canvas ballet slippers on my feet. Fourteen girls giggling and catching up, silencing when we realise our regular teacher, a beautiful ballerina, has been replaced with an equally handsome counterpart – So You Think You Can Dance Canada contestant, Jera Wolfe. He smiled and waved the class in, starting with some contemporary choreography and then a hip hop piece. Wolfe is a dancer’s envy – he is trained in ballet yet can breakdance with the best of them. He is humorous and kind, even when our group spends twenty minutes perfecting two eight counts.

Wolfe was born in Toronto, Ontario, grew up in Inverness, Nova Scotia, and trained with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. And did I mention he’s 19? He auditioned for SYTYCD Canada in Calgary and made it to the top 22. He finished in the top 18, and his pit stop in Winnipeg came just before the show’s finale.

We were fortunate enough to have Wolfe teach two amazing classes – with the tense painful gleuts to prove it. Before he headed to Toronto for the SYTYCD finale, I asked Wolfe if he wouldn’t mind talking about what makes him tick. This is what the young, talented, did I mention handsome?, dancer had to say.

What motivates you to continue dancing?

Dance is such a big part of my life. I first got inspired by breaking and then ended up taking hip hop, jazz, and ballet. The thing about dance is that you never stop learning. I have trained in ballet for 5 years now, but still have so much more to accomplish and gain in the discipline. I am so motivated to keep dancing because I am constantly changing and gaining experience as an artist.

When did you start choreographing and what is the creative process like for you?

I first started to explore choreography when I was competing in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Schools First Steps Competition. It’s a student choreography competition that takes place at the school.

It’s really all about the music for me. I found a piece that inspired me and the movements that came along with it. I ended up getting a honours award.

What are some challenges you face when creating or performing a piece?

Creating a piece can be hard sometimes depending on who will be dancing it. If I create a piece for myself it will most likely be easy to make because I know my strengths and weaknesses best. If it’s for a group of dancers I don’t know well, that’s a different story. I usually end up changing it because I create a dance for myself rather than for the performers, this is a struggle I come across a lot.

Performing is what I live for. Sometimes it freaks me out, depending on the piece I’m doing or the crowd. Having to dance in front of 500 screaming girls and on national television was a little overwhelming at times.

What influences you creatively?

Music is so influential and important to me. I can get lost listening to music all day. Having such a diverse background in dance is nice too because I can find myself dancing in almost all my styles and to almost any song.


Welded Woman

 Winnipeg author reveals the secrets of finding characters, voice, and strength.

Before meeting Diane, I had never met a woman who was so — formidable. And who wore the badge proudly. Our first interaction was in an intimate woman’s writing workshop class, with only fifteen students. At first I didn’t know what to make of her, but it’s amazing how three weeks can change things.

I did not know that Diane Alexander had a rich Icelandic heritage. Or that she was a blacksmith by trade. Let alone a published author. There are so many nuances to her that often leave me wondering

 When can we get together for four hours and discuss the universe?

 She has been in the most emotional of circumstances and through such varying experiences, yet there is a relatable aspect to her personality — which also comes out through her writing. For the class, which focused on life writing, we delved into each other’s guarded personal memories; she left an impression on me, both as a woman and a writer. At the time, spring of 2009, Diane had published her first novel Secrets Found in Gimli.  She is working on both her second book, Balance Found in Gimli, and her third, Blood Ties,  in a series which “interweaves murder, spiritual growth and Seidhr Magik.”

Because I can’t resist her use of detailed words and phrases even in everyday speech, I decided to talk with Diane about what feeds her creative monster. And the words flowed magically.

What is the writing process like for you?

The writing process… sounds so formal, so elitist, so dedicated. My process is a revision of experiences, a personal overview which follows a quest. Something inside of me, drives me to create characters within a world who are connected by points of emotional reference. I feel a need, a push if you will, mentally to sit and listen to my characters stories. I plug in my headphones and start the music I’ve chosen for each novel. At first I’m scared as I think, “can I do this?” And then the words, those exquisite formations, leap out and on the page, creating a world of wonderment, of rich phrasing, elaborate plotting, and tears. After an evening of writing I’m filled with energy, excited, and dancing about the room. It’s when I’m not writing or creating a work of fiction that is the hardest.

You know I had to, what is your favourite and least favourite part?

My favourite part of writing would wind around the reading of what I’ve just written and the readings that accompany the end of the novel. Hands down, the least of my favourite parts is killing off a character. There is a chapter in Secrets Found In Gimli where I laid down after writing it and cried myself shaky. Writing the end is of course satisfying, traumatic, and a two wine bottle event. 

Who do you admire as a writer and what makes them intriguing?

Margaret Lawrence and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are my favourite. Lawrence for her ability to convey the dominant discourse of the day as simply the cover for the rich underpinnings of chaos that lies within societal beliefs. Conan Doyle because of Sherlock Holmes: one of the most incredible alter ego’s of a writer ever imagined.

What influences your writing most?

Experience of Life. To me if you have to research every detail of a character, how can you convey the emotion of that character if you haven’t felt it yourself? 

What gets your creative juices flowing?

Giving Voice to those who have none. Then there’s the sheer fun of creating. Everyone creates but there is a difference in writers that stands out. Our pure bloody obsession to create the bond with readers who smile when we meet them, our base of inspiration truly comes from courage to communicate through our works that yes, we are old friends that haven’t or have met and this is a journey for two that we are on.

 That’s the magic, really.


Flash Flood

Photographer Katy Winterflood discusses her remarkable creative journey from across the pond to the Peg.  

It’s downpouring on a fall night in Winnipeg. I look spectacularly haggard while the always fair Miss Katy Winterflood sits cozy in her chair at Starbucks. It most certainly did not look as though she had just moved into her first business space that same day; a shared office at 70 Arthur Street acting as headquarters for Katy Winterflood Photography.   

It has been awhile since I connected with twenty-two year old Katy. We first met in the summer of 2009, both working as photographers at the Wal-Mart Portrait Studio. It is safe to say that my talent came straight out of the training manual while Katy’s, is a little more ingrained.   

Born and raised near London, England, Katy was exposed to creativity and various art forms from a young age. At seven years old, she started playing the violin, piano, drums, and guitar. She tried her hand with pencil, brush, and clay. A few years later, Katy started singing and acting; deciding to focus more on musical theatre.     

“Once you do one, you want to do it all.” It is no surprise that photography became a limb of her creative monster.  

“I always had a camera in hand,” says Katy, “there’s even a picture of me at three years old taking a photo of a duck.” Katy’s father is into photography; however, it is her grandmother who shared the arts with the young Brit. “She is very artistic, as a hobby,” says Katy, recalling the times they painted with watercolour and oil, or played with pottery. “We were always doing creative things.”  

 But while some let their macaroni art fester in the bottom of shoe boxes, Katy knew that creative arts was her calling. In 2006, right after completing high school, Katy attended Liverpool Hope University.  She went to live in Liverpool to get a degree in Theatre and Media studies, which incorporates a lot of what Creative Communications offers.   

“We did a lot of practical,” says Katy, furthering describing how students would go out and do photography projects, an aspect Katy thoroughly enjoyed. They also worked hands on with radio and other media equipment. But in April 2007, after eight months, Katy stopped enjoying the program.   

“We did the practical before the theoretical – everything just slowed down.”   

Katy started doing projects on the side, auditioning and starring in a commercial for the drink brand Iron Brew. She acted in local music videos, playing a “goth kid in a classroom,” and a nerdy girl in a “geek scene.” She was driven and on the go; something the course started to lack.  After becoming intensely introverted, Katy realised that she needed to leave university.   

“I don’t need a degree to perform.”   

The ambitious student didn’t want to  “leave university to do nothing,” so she started searching for photography schools in the States, Canada, and the UK. After reviewing hundreds of schools, Katy applied – and was accepted into – the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Massachusetts, USA. It was perfect : ten months (so no long-term home-sickness), the best facilities and equipment, and heralded as one of the top photography schools. Out of 3000-4000 annual applicants, Hallmark only accepts 300.   

“We got right down to looking for accommodations,” says Katy. It was exciting, but at $50,000 US tuition — before living expenses — what isn’t exciting? Not to mention, the UK citizen wouldn’t be allowed to work in the states.“I had a year’s period to find fifty grand.”   

Katy Winterflood Photography

 The Plan was to save money in Pounds. But instead, her parents wanted a change and her father managed to secure a job in Winnipeg. Katy stayed behind, working a call centre job she hated, but could pay the bills, and moved in with her boyfriend, Liam Harris. Then The Plan took another hit.  

“We both lost our jobs in the same month,” says Katy about the aftermath of the recession.  The two lived off their savings, going on Job Seeker’s Allowance while struggling to find work — “Maybe I needed to look for another school.”  The search began once more, and that’s when Winnipeg came into focus.  

Katy first found Winnipeg based Prairieview School of Photography  slumped into a search of schools in Vancouver and Ontario.  “It was on a much smaller scale, 36 students,” says Katy, who at the time could not fathom such a small intake when compared to the measly 300 of Hallmark. Prairieview, located on Hargrave Street, was only two blocks up from her mother’s workplace. It was affordable, a full-time ten month program,  and Katy could live with her parents.  

“It all just kind of pieced itself together.”  

Having visited Winnipeg earlier in 2008 for three months, Katy knew she could not leave Liam behind again. When she was accepted into Prairieview, the two came to Winnipeg; Katy was able to work legally while Liam could not. He did, however, help out where he could.“He gardened, cleaned with my mum, did laundry,anything and everything.”  

Katy Winterflood for SANDBOX Magazine

In the Fall of 2009, Katy started at Prairieview as a full-time Photography student. Her creative avenues opened up due to her ability to network. After being in the country for only 14 months, she accomplished more than most city dwellers. Katy graduated from the program as class valedictorian and winner of the Industry Studies Award. During her time at the school, she volunteered and had the opportunity to photograph a Nygard fashion show. She has done “creatives” (collaborations) with Swish Model Management, who signed Canada’s Next Top Model winner Meaghan Waller, and CreComm’s favourite SANDBOX magazine – whom she adores working with.  

“I do genuinely love it, everyone brings something to the table,” says Katy. It also caters to her interests in fashion photography and allows her to meet other artists in make-up, hair, and styling.      

Even though the new professional just opened her own studio, Katy Winterflood Photography — no small feat in the highly competitive industry — she attributes her success to the intense vocational training at Prairieview.      

“You need to be hand on – leaving University is the best thing I’ve ever done.”      

Our coffees now long finished, the rain just dying down, Katy takes out her phone to show me pictures of her sparsely decorated office. I take out my phone and challenge Katy to take a photo with only natural lighting and my unpolished face.      

 “Oh gosh, I’ll try!”      

My fair lady, after all that, I think you’ll be just fine.      

– Daniella Ponticelli    

Katy Winterflood Photography

Katy Winterflood Photography –
Special Thanks to Katy for the pictures.  

To see how my BlackBerry picture turned out, click here.

Let’s Sweeten the Deal

Business student leaves serious study for the day to indulge in a hobby of rich taste.

Rafa is sweating on the court while his future wife, ChrisMarie Pretorius, pours bright purple icing into a plastic tube. I’m helping by holding the tube open, barely managing to do that with success.“Yeah, sorry if it gets all over your hands,” CM says and I laugh. Who really minds cleaning up a little of the sweet stuff?

“I’ve always wanted to make fun cupcakes” says CM, while swirling on a third layer of lime green icing. During a trip to Michaels, CM spotted an ad for in-store Wilton cake decorating classes. Within a week, the amateur baker was making, baking, and levelling cakes. No pre-made ten-minute mix for this ballsy Betty Crocker.

I make an indented smiley face with my finger, and CM swirls on icing flowers with precision and ease. Most of her inspiration comes from the large course book Wilton offers with a variety of cake projects. CM also searches the web, browsing different sites and personal pages for crafty ideas. I was lucky enough to be the recipient of her first cake: a self made creation in bright neon yellow icing with loud pink and purple fondant daises.

Note: please read “fondant” as the Cake Boss says, “Fon-don.”

Everyone in the class learns how to mix up a basic cake batter and butter cream icing – the best kind for decorating.“It looks easy, but you have to make sure it’s not too thin, not too thick.” She dabs a small dollop of icing that smears the counter. “And there is no way to not make a mess, I’ve tried.”

Even though the Winnipeg cake boss keeps things modest, CM has a rich history of baking. Her family has always been big into the activity and there’s even a long standing Pretorius tradition. “In my family, you always get cake for breakfast on your birthday.”

The sweet chick is also known for her oh-so-healthy granola bars. It all started with a passed-on recipe and soon CM’s bars were a hit with all her friends; even making personally commissioned batches. The decadent dainties are mixed with various nuts, oats, and seeds; chocolate chips and Skor pieces are added for specialty.

A couple of bars and Big Bang Theory — you’ve got yourself a Friday Night.

Even though CM has no professional baking aspirations, she graduated from first level basics and is currently taking level two: Flowers and Cake Design. The classes run once a week on a Thursday evening, allowing the student to keep up her studies. “I do it with the idea that other people are going to come and enjoy.”

We cap the night with a “ChrisMarie is a cupcake” inspired shoot; giggling as we try poofing her grad dress with pillows and sticking globs of delicious icing on her nose. I help clean the messy kitchen after, with counters now stained neon pink.

The inspiring part is that CM tried something new, challenging, and  completely unrelated to work or school.  She decorates for fun and in turn, constantly rewards and feeds her creativity.

CM recently got accepted into the Vancouver Art Institute to study Fashion.
Strawberry Shortcake dresses anyone?

– Daniella Ponticelli

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