A Conversation with Morro & Jasp on Clowning, Feminism, and Performance

Toronto is no stranger to many great forms of theatre, spanning from the bright lights of Mirvish to the quaint and intimate smaller venues decorating our city. We can easily find a home away from home within these performance spaces. Currently, at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction graces the stage with an ultimate power-duo, and one of the only female-centered clown duos within the GTA.

Morro & Jasp, otherwise known as Heather Marie Annis (Morro), and Amy Lee (Jasp) have geared up for an entirely new production based off their years of experience and studying circus shows across the U.S. Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is said to ask questions regarding “the meaning of faith, and will have a series of male chorus members onstage with them (the first time they have ever shared a stage with anyone) challenging them, and making them ask tough questions about the society they live in.”

Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, together with director Byron Laviolette, have created 10 full-length shows over 12 years, which led them to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. It is no question that Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is destined for greatness, creating an immersive theatre experience for all to enjoy.

Kimberley Drapack: When did you begin clowning?

Morro & Jasp: We met in university and started clown training in 2004. Byron Laviolette, our director, had studied clown in high school, approached us to work on a clown show after he saw us do a physical theatre piece together in the student festival.

K: What prep work did you have to partake in for the show?

M&J: We do our hair and makeup together do a physical, voice and clown warm-up. Then put on our noses.  We go through our clown masks and colours (a tradition of Pochinko-style clowning). Then, right before we go on stage, Morro tells Jasp (in the style of Darth Vader) that she is her father. Then we play a game. Then we repeat our mantra about how we are going to have the most fun together and then we dance.

K: What does this form of theatre offer audiences opposed to more traditional forms of theatre?

M&J: The clown nose reminds audiences that we are playing together, so people are allowed to invest in the game of theatre with us. We don’t ask them to pretend there is a fourth wall, which we feel allows them to let their guard down a little more and laugh at themselves. Also, since clowns are not regular humans, they can comment on human behaviour in a way that makes it seem new and things we take for granted as “regular” behaviour doesn’t seem so regular when it is done by a clown.

K: What is a feminist clown and what does it mean to you?

M&J: We can only define that for ourselves, not for all feminist clowns. But for us, because we are women and we make work that is true to ourselves and reflects our experience in the world, we are feminist clowns. We don’t constantly think about feminism when we are creating work, we think about the theme we are exploring and try to put that on stage in the most honest way. That, to most people, reads as feminism, because it is our truth.

K: How have Morro & Jasp evolved since your earlier shows?

M&J: We started making Morro and Jasp shows for kids and the clowns were younger in those shows, to reflect the audience we were playing to. Since then, Morro and Jasp age, mature, and change with every show and mirror our own journeys. They are constantly evolving based on where we are at in our lives, and therefore where they are at in their lives. Right now, they are very confused about the state of the world.

K: Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction is said to be a response to the “state of the world.” What does this mean to you?

M&J: To us, the world feels more confusing than ever right now and it is hard to know where to look for guidance and answers. This show is an exploration of how we develop our own stories of what life is or should be, and how that affects us and the people around us. We were curious about how faith and belief plays a role in the world today and how that guides us or gets in our way.

K: What was it like sharing the stage with additional cast members? Why were they added to this show?

M&J: Sharing the stage with Anand, Elliott, and Sefton has been exciting, challenging, rewarding, and has made us look at what we do and how we do it in entirely new ways. They have been bending over backwards, sideways and upside down to work fast, on the fly, then change everything, to accommodate our style of working. It has definitely reconfirmed that we have an unconventional way of working, and we are so grateful to have found playmates who can role with our punches.

We added additional characters because this play is about Morro and Jasp coming up against a world and feelings that they can’t figure out how to navigate. Their relationship is strained when the play begins and we wanted to challenge Morro and Jasp to have to find a way back to each other with a whole new set of elements coming between them. Also, because our play is about systems of belief, we felt it was necessary to have other characters start to follow the clowns and buy into their beliefs.

K: What does Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction hope to show its audiences? What themes can we find within the show?

M&J: We certainly don’t have answers to the questions we are posing in this show. By creating it, we have just discovered more and more questions. But those questions are about belief through the stories we are told or the stories we tell ourselves. When do these stories go too far? When do they get entwined with the human desire for power and status? When do they start to divide us? When do these stories prevent us from being authentic, open and able to connect with one another? When do they keep us from dancing like no one’s watching?

K: What is the most essential element to clowning?

M&J: Play.

K: What is next for you? Can we expect to see Morro & Jasp in the future?

M&J: You can certainly expect to see lots more of Morro and Jasp in the future! Our video game, Morro and Jasp: Unscripted, will be out later this week, so you can buy that on the App store and you can make us put on plays for you all the time! In the fall, we will be playing Of Mice and Morro and Jasp to high schools with Manitoba Theatre for Young which is going to be a magnificent adventure. We also have some more shows in the works that we can’t talk about yet.

K: Anything else you would like to add?

M&J: We could go on forever, but we have to go back to rehearsal, so we will just say – come see the show! If you’ve never seen a clown show, or you don’t think you like clowns, you should still come. We promise to surprise you.

Don’t miss Morro & Jasp in Stupefaction, which runs through June 24 at Streetcar Crowsnest and continue following our arts and culture coverage on  FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Emil Sher on The Boy in the Moon at the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre

Sitting at Pearson Airport waiting to hop on a flight to the Yukon for a reading tour through the Canadian Children’s Book Centre is Emil Sher. Sponsored through TD, the “TD Canadian Children’s Book Week” happens each spring and invites authors and illustrators to “foreign lands.” The main rule when applying is that one may not tour within their own province. Emil applied for B.C., Newfoundland and the Yukon and will be giving talks in schools and other communities throughout the course of the week on his books, Away (2017) and Young Man with Camera (2015).

In a thirty-five minute conversation, we bonded over our love of Montréal, theatre, and academia.

Emil was born and raised in Montréal and one of our initial talking points was how we both were in the same undergraduate program with the same major at McGill University. Just recently graduating from McGill, it has provided me with some solace to see a former graduate of the same program as finding a great deal of success within a creative field. This of course is not without years of hard work and nurturing relationships.

After his time at McGill, Sher went to Africa for two years to teach, and later returned to Montreal where he achieved his MA in Creative Writing. Upon graduating, Sher considered his options.

“Do I go the academic route? Which was one path to take, and obviously an honourable one. Or do I freelance and stitch together a living? That’s the choice I made. Despite the odds, and common sense, I’ve managed.” 

Within his choice of becoming a freelance writer, Sher has had considerable success as an author of many genres. As Sher puts it, he “wears many hats” which showcases his endless creative capabilities and success within whatever field he chooses to navigate. Sher has engineered two lives within one lifetime. On one hand, he has had great success with his writing, and at the same time, he continues to teach and hold workshops for young writers. He has successfully fulfilled both prophecies.

We had the opportunity to speak with Emil about The Boy in the Moon, his upcoming projects, and why theatre should not set up an audience member with the expectation to learn something, but rather, provide the spectator with an onslaught of new questions about life and human nature.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first begin writing?

Emil Sher: God Bless Canada, we have wonderful arts funding. I received a Canada Council Grant for $10,000 in my early twenties. $10,000 now barely covers my daughter’s tuition, but then, it went a long way.

I started down that path and worked on a novel that didn’t get published but was great apprenticeship of sorts. I ended up doing a fair bit of Radio Drama for CBC, some children’s animations, and a screenplay that was shot in Montréal.

It was just a matter of nurturing relationships. Since these projects take so long, you really want to make sure you are working with the right people because it’s always a challenging journey. You can never control the outcome.

You work on a project, whether it’s a book, a play, or a film, and there is absolutely no control over how people will respond to the story. So much of the gratification and the hard work comes from shaping the story, and that goes back to finding fellow travellers who are in for the long haul.

K: What was it about Walker’s story that made you want to adapt The Boy in the Moon into a play?

ES: I’ve long known Ian Brown and I think he’s one of the finest writers in the country. He has a lovely hybrid of humour, self-deprecation and real heartwarming insights. He writes beautifully crafted phrases.

It began as a series on Walker with beautiful photographs and I almost instinctually knew it was going to be a book. Of course, that’s exactly what happened and he nurtured that into The Boy in the Moon.

I read The Boy in the Moon and because I wear different hats and have my toes in different waters – I’ve done children’s fiction, I’ve done non-fiction essays in the Globe, and I do theatre for both children and adults – and I saw a play called A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, a beautiful non-fiction book about her husband who keeled over one day from a heart attack when they were having dinner. She writes about that process. As it turns out, that book was turned into a stage play and they lifted whole pages out of the book whole with no effort to dramatize it, but just simply present her thoughts and insights on stage. I thought it worked beautifully. It wasn’t a conventional play, but it was a beautiful narrative.

So then I thought, this has been done before. You can take a non-fiction, first-person voice and transfer it onto the stage. Ian’s book is entirely first-person and told through his eyes but I knew that Ian alone did not raise Walker. Joanna Schneller, his wife, is a film columnist for the Globe and Mail, and I knew it was essential to weave Joanna’s voice into this story as well.

The third act I call “Planet Walker.” It is made up of all the people who have formed and shaped Walker’s life, primarily his sister Hayley, Olga, the family nanny, and all the doctors and social workers who stepped into Ian and Joanna’s life and had an impact.

In some cases, I took words that he had crafted and gave them to Joanna, because I knew that these would have been shared thoughts and shared perspective, and on top of that, I interviewed Joanna on my own. One of the most gratifying moments was seeing Ian at the Ottawa premiere in 2014 learn things about his wife that he heard on stage for the first time.

I also spoke with Hayley, their daughter. I spent a morning with Olga, the nanny, and I wove all those interviews into the fabric of the play. What you see in the play is large chunks of Ian’s book, but also original material that you wouldn’t find in the book. It added layers to the narrative.

K: What were the main surprises or challenges that came up for you through this process?

ES: Chris Abraham, who is directing the Toronto premiere at Crow’s Theatre, has done verbatim theatre before. I thought, why not only approach a great director, but one whose mined this territory before. It takes a certain sensibility.

Verbatim theatre is not necessarily inherently dramatic. It’s not like taking dialogue between two characters where you can take it where you want to. Here, are spoken words that have already been expressed, and you sort of have to shape it. That was probably the biggest challenge; taking something that seems static and making it dramatic.

One thing that Chris has done is he has added a third actor, Kelly McNamee, who plays Hayley and a host of other roles. One beautiful layer to this production is dance. There are some really lovely movement pieces, where it becomes its own character almost.

I knew ultimately that we could harness the tools of theatre in ways that could really underscore of what I think is the power and beauty of the story. There is an intimacy to theatre that you don’t have in other forms of storytelling. It’s so live and so present.

K: Along with The Boy in the Moon, you also translated the story, Hannah’s Suitcase into a play. What are the difficulties in adapting works with such sensitive subject matters? What role or responsibility does a playwright have in this situation?

ES: The book is called Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, who is a CBC producer. I read that book to my children about ten or eleven years ago. I knew about the book and that it was about the Holocaust. My late mother was a Holocaust survivor, so there was that draw of course, and I thought it was a beautiful story. You rarely hear the words “hope” and “Holocaust” paired together. It’s a hopeful story because its largely driven by this Japanese teacher who was relentless in uncovering Hannah’s story. I found that profoundly moving and inspiring.

I migrate towards the dark because that’s where I think a lot of hard, but important truths are about human nature.

I think ultimately, you have to honour the story. That’s probably the biggest challenge and responsibility. I think it’s so important to preserve the core of the story which could be tricky in the first place. You can add layers, but you have a responsibility to be faithful with that core.

K: Chris Abraham, (the director of The Boy in the Moon) commented that this show “makes a very intangible experience tangible.” What does this comment mean to you? How does it relate to your specific style of writing?

ES: You have on a page, a story in a newspaper or in a book, that visually comes to life. That goes back to the intimacy and power of live theatre. When you hear Ian’s struggle, his quest and his journey, visually given voice to by an actor, that’s very different than reading it off a page.

When you read a book, it’s unmediated, which is part of the power of reading, (which is why I write novels as well) and theatre by its very nature, has to be mediated. There is the actor interpreting the story. When it’s in the right hands, it can be absolutely transcendent and that’s what makes it so tangible, because you literally hear the emotion in someone’s voice.

On the other hand, the power of theatre often comes from what isn’t said. You can have moments of silence on stage that are just so powerful and so weighted. To me, that’s taking the tangible, which is often emotions, what we experience but can’t often express, and what theatre does, is gives it expression. 

K: It seems as if there are a lot of layers to this production.

ES: There is movement, sound, and gorgeous lighting by Kimberley Purtell and Thomas Payne. They are all threads, that when woven together, creates a singular experience.

K: Do you find that theatre is a way to teach people these certain aspects of storytelling?

ES: I’m always reluctant to be any type of teacher on stage. I don’t think a play should provide any lessons or that audiences should arrive expecting to learn something. Rather, I feel a play should challenge us in ways where we don’t leave the theatre with answers so much as a raft of questions.

A stage is not the place for tidy answers. An audience shouldn’t step into a theatre expecting any. Life is layered and complicated, all the more so when it means weaving a boy like Walker into the fabric of our lives. Adapting The Boy in the Moon was more than simply a great privilege linked to a deep responsibility. It was a reminder that theatre is a communal experience, and it is in community where we find the answers to the questions — raw, necessary, urgent — laid bare on stage.

K: You’ve spent a lot of time working with children through various workshops that you hold. What inspired this process? What have you learned through it?

ES: Childhood is so formative. This is PSYCH 101; but I think that to work with children is such a wonderful and marvelous opportunity to help create an environment they can carry with them, long after childhood. I don’t know if they will, but it’s a privilege to till that soil.

I may go and plant some seeds, but what they do with those seeds is up to them. If one or two bear fruit that I may have had a hand in nurturing, then it doesn’t get better than that. There is no question that childhood experiences are formative. They shape who we are.

Childhood is still an opportunity for hope.

K: What can The Boy in the Moon teach us about childhood and growing up?

ES: It’s complex and layered, tangled and beautiful. It can take years to understand. Like all the chapters of our lives, I think there’s much there to unravel. I don’t think we should feel the need to understand everything at a given point. There is something that may have happened to us in childhood that may only make sense to us while we’re adults and that is OK.

K: In stories dealing with tough subject matters, authors will often include moments of comic relief. Do you find this necessary within a story like The Boy in the Moon?

ES: That’s definitely part of it – there is humour in The Boy in the Moon. I think it almost becomes a pressure valve of sorts, but it also is more than that. Humour can reveal some important truths.

I think humour is essential to navigate life. There is a lot of darkness out there and if you look hard and long enough. Humour is one way of coping with the darkness and maybe subvert things when they need to be subverted.

K: Do you find this has been a useful tool within your writing?

ES: Definitely. Humour is really hard to pull off well, and when it fails, it really falls flat. It’s often at one’s own expense, so of course we are going to laugh.

K: What advice do you have for young writers/authors who wish to tackle sensitive subject matters within their work?

ES: The golden rule for anyone who wants to write is: write. We can spend a lot of time thinking about writing, and far less time actually writing. Don’t hold back and don’t censor yourself. Don’t question it, just get it down, because then you have a ball of clay to work with. Otherwise, you are dealing with air.

In terms of sensitivity, I think you have to be sensitive to any stuff that you are tackling. Whether it is a family with a profoundly disabled son, because we are all ultimately human and vulnerable and fallible, I think you should use the same sensitivity no matter what story you are telling.

Don’t get distracted by bells and whistles or prose that can ultimately be more of a detour than the destination.

K: What would you want audiences to take away from The Boy in the Moon?

ES: If they leave with a question they hadn’t considered before they arrived, that would be terrific. That would be gratifying.

After The Boy in the Moon, Sher will continue with his adapted musical version of Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater that’s opening this October at the Segal Centre in Montreal. He is writing the book and co-writing the lyrics with composer and lyricist Jonathan Monro. The show is being directed by Donna Feore, whom Sher describes as “one of the country’s finest musical theatre directors.”  

Catch The Boy in the Moon onstage at the Streetcar Crowsnet Guloien Theatre from May 9th-27th and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Frank Horvat at Izzy Gallery

If you are a photographer with many years of work under your belt, you often can accredit your success to a specific genre or a type of photography. Photographers such as Frank Horvat have exceeded these expectations and brought forth a degree of experience and talent that anyone in the industry can aspire to. Frank has worked as a photographer for over 70 years and has photographed a variety of subjects, landscapes, and objects. He began his career when he was fifteen when he swapped his stamp collection for a 35mm Retinamat camera. Through the years, Frank has had a variety of exhibitions. In the 1960s Frank travelled between Paris, London, and New York, and worked for publications such as Vogue, Glamour, and Harper’s Bazaar.

Through his career, Frank experienced the ever-changing landscape of photography and reflected them in his work, switching from film to digital imaging. In 2010, Frank created HORVATLAND, an iPad application dedicated to his works.

‘Please Don’t Smile’ at Izzy Gallery; photo courtesy of Izzy Gallery

Most recently, Frank has brought his exhibition, ‘Please Don’t Smile’ to Izzy Gallery in Toronto. The exhibit is an amalgamation of his favourite photos from his 30-year span as a fashion photographer. Izzy Gallery represents a variety of established photographers, and through Izzy’s close collaboration with the artists, he is able to display the best of their works by hand selecting from the artists’ archives. Izzy has worked closely with Frank on bringing ‘Please Don’t Smile’ to Toronto, and it is because of their relationship that Frank has attended one of his first gallery openings in North America in the past 14 years.

Izzy, with you I understood what it was like for Picasso and Matisse and Braque to have the art dealers they had: people who cared as much about the work as they cared about the money, to the point that they often kept the best for themselves. All my life I was hoping to find that dealer, and now I found you.” – Frank Horvat

We had the opportunity to sit down with Frank and discuss the exhibit, his career, and the importance of “tiny miracles” within his work.

Kimberley Drapack: What does the title, ‘Please Don’t Smile’ mean to you in regards to the exhibit?

Frank Horvat: I like it when something means more than one thing at a time. It means two or three things, and people get a bit lost. “Please Don’t Smile” is one thing I told the models when I photographed them, not because I didn’t want them to look happy, because I didn’t want a phony happiness of smiling for the photograph. If someone smiles because he or she is really happy, that’s fine, but if you smile just because you produce a smile for the photograph, I don’t like it.

When you say, “Please Don’t Smile,” you suggest that it is something to smile about. So, there’s this suggestion, and it works in several ways.

K: You’ve been working as a photographer for over 70 years. Can you tell us a bit about your experience?

FH: No, I became a fashion photographer by accident. I was a fashion photographer for about 30 years, and now it’s been more than 30 years and I haven’t taken a single fashion photograph. I don’t really wish to be labelled as a fashion photographer.

In spite of what is true, my fashion photographs are the part of my work which sells a lot. Many people like and use them and put them on their walls. So yes, I live off that reputation of being a fashion photographer, but I often like to insist and underline that I am not really a fashion photographer. I’m interested in other areas of photography, and other areas of life. It’s not my main thing.

This being said, I am very happy with this exhibition here with the fashion photographs, [Please Don’t Smile] because they are consistent and well exhibited, and I like the idea of my work being shown in Canada. So, I am very happy. I have no criticism at all.

I think the main reason I became a fashion photographer was because I was interested in photographing good looking girls and I loved directing them. On the other hand, my idea about photography has always been this: a good photograph is a photograph that cannot be redone. You get it once, and you never get it again. A good photograph is a kind of miracle.

Which is very much the opposite of fashion photography. In fashion photography, you have a situation: you choose a model, you choose a dress, you choose a location, and you go there and you take not one, but three or twenty rows of photos to get it exactly right. There is something where you say, you’ve done it, but it can be done again. It’s prepared and directed.

I didn’t want that kind of fashion photography. I always found a way of creating a situation where things happened that could not happen again.

“1951, Firenze, First Fashion Picture” By Frank Horvat ;photo courtesy of Izzy Gallery

(Frank refers to a photograph on the wall where a model stands next to a horse) This was my first fashion photograph when I was less than 20 years old. I didn’t know how to direct a model. She did very well, but the dress wasn’t particularly good and the composition was ok, but not more than ok. But that horse, the movement, and the profile with the silhouette against the sky — that will never happen again. Which I didn’t direct. The reason why I like that photograph is because something happened that I couldn’t get again.

I like to say that it was a tiny miracle. These kinds of miracles became more and more difficult. As I was getting more clever, things started to become more preconceived and things didn’t just happen by accident. In a way, the further I got, the more clever I became, the more difficult it became.

The conclusion, is that I in fact, didn’t take many good fashion photographs. There may have been 30, maybe 40 but certainly not 60, because those miracles didn’t happen as often.

Izzy made this exhibition with my fashion photographs but if he wanted to make a secondary exhibition with other fashion photographs, I wouldn’t have any to give him… not any that I really liked. They are really special in that sense and it’s through that logic that I care for my fashion photography.

K: How would you describe ‘Please Don’t Smile’?

FH: For a time, I was almost ashamed of being a fashion photographer. I thought it was something futile, to the point that there were a lot of photographs that I destroyed. Now that I see them together, I am bit reconciled with them, because I do realize that, in the case of these photographs, each one is a little bit of a miracle. I am thankful for these miracles.

“1958 Paris, For Elle with Michel Horvat” by Frank Horvat; photo courtesy of Izzy Gallery

To give you an example, look at this photograph, with the feather. (Frank points to a photograph where a small boy is holding a feather that covers a models face) When I started this sitting, I didn’t have any idea that I would do this photograph. The model was wearing a dress that I didn’t think was very interesting, she wasn’t particularly beautiful, and maybe I wasn’t particularly in the mood. I was trying to find something that would make the situation interesting. My son was around and I told him not to come close to the model, and that he could maybe play with his feather. The photograph was made because of a lucky moment when he had the feather just in front of her face, so that you didn’t see her face very clearly, but you saw it just enough. One second, not something that I set up, or that I could have set up, but something that just happened, and I caught. This was, a little miracle.

K: Do you remember your earlier years of photography?

FH: That’s the advantage of photography that helps you to remember. There were a lot of things that happened in my life, different points, which I have completely forgotten. When they’re photographed, and if I’ve handled them, printed it, or sold it or published it, I of course remember them.

K: I notice that the entire exhibit is in black and white.

FH: They were in black and white, because at that time, film was in black in white, and magazines published photographs in black and white.

Later, colour came, and I used colour. There was no preference.

K: On that note, it wasn’t until the ‘90s until you started working with digital imaging. Was it a big transition?

FH: I’m all for digital imaging, but it wasn’t so much the digital that changed, but Photoshop that changed. Even before, people used to manipulate images, but with digital, it became easier and you had more control. At the same time, it became more necessary with colour. With colour, there were more things that could be disturbing. If you’re on a street in New York, and there is a yellow cab, and you didn’t need the colour yellow, you could weaken the brightness. Manipulating photographs became a necessity.

K: Did you find that was a big aspect of your fashion photography in general?

FH: It was a big aspect. The interesting thing is it was the kind of opposite of my research of “the happy accident.” On one hand, I was waiting for the happy accident, and on the other hand I was trying to get rid of the unhappy accidents. To make a selection between what I considered a happy accident to what I considered a not-so happy accident.

K: The colour distortion is then to focus on certain aspects of a photo?

FH: I would say that every photograph is a choice among millions of possibilities. When there is so much that happens around you and you decide to frame one part of it, and take a shot of one moment among others, so you always choose. If I photograph in the street of Toronto, I pick my angle, my frame and my moment, out of a million more angles, frames and moments that I don’t pick. It’s always choosing.

K: If you’re not forced to have an emotion, it can create a more range of emotion, or natural state.

FH: It’s certain that the conventional smile is not something that you are pleased about. If the person has a conventional smile for you, you don’t really appreciate it. If I know it’s a conventional smile, it doesn’t mean anything to me.

K: You had not only a great success within your fashion photography, but your work expands to multiple genres, perspectives, and subjects. Was this something that was important to you within your work, or did it happen naturally?

FH: I think if I can see or show something that is meaningful to other people, it’s satisfying. If what I see or show, is just a repeat of something that has been said or shown many times, its less satisfying. To give an example, at one point, I made an exhibition about trees. There was something a little different about the way I showed them, and someone said to me, “after seeing your photographs, I look at trees in a different way.” That was positive. I thought it was worth doing.

With everything I photograph, I try to find a way of doing it as it hasn’t been shown before. If I take your portrait, I’ll probably take it in a way that you will think you look ugly in the portrait. You would mean it, because you don’t look the way you like to look when you look at yourself in the mirror. It may happen, that three or thirty years from now, you look at this photograph I took of you and you think that after all, you didn’t look so bad. That would make me happy.

We all have a way of looking at yourselves in a mirror and criticizing what we think is not perfect, or what we have a complex about. The woman I love said to me the other day, “I really have a big nose, you shouldn’t show my nose.” I said to her, “your nose is exactly what is interesting about you, and maybe one day you will realize it if I show it, because I love it and think it’s beautiful.” So that’s for me a good reason to take a photograph.

K: You find the beauty in people that they don’t necessarily see in themselves.

FH: Not only people, but you can find beauty anywhere that people didn’t see.

K: How do you choose the subjects of your fashion photography?

FH: When I was doing fashion photography, models used to telephone and come to an appointment and show me their book. If I liked their voice, I said yes, come. I thought that if I liked their voice, I thought there must be something beautiful about them that I could show.

K: And for your portraits?

FH: For me, if I photograph a face in the street of a person that I don’t know, I wouldn’t call it a portrait. It’s a close-up of the face. I call it a portrait when I have a definite idea about a person, and I try to show this at the end of the photograph.

If I photograph you, I wouldn’t call it a portrait, because I don’t know you. If I knew something about you, even a small thing, something I can find in a small conversation, or something you’ve told me once, it would mean that I have some idea about you and if I photograph, I will try to show my preconceived idea about you. To me, that is a portrait.

K: In the ‘80s, when you were in New York, you released your series, ‘New York, Up and Down.’ What was that process like?

FH: That was a product of New York. It could have just been a patch of dirt on the pavement. For some reason, I associated that exhibit with what I found to be important about New York. It could be anything – not just the beautiful landscape, but the setting.

It was mainly a feeling in New York where everything is really dense, a lot of things become really close together. Very often, they mix quite well.

I came to New York for a few weeks and it made the exhibit into an emotion. If I had stayed there all the time, it probably would have been less of an emotion.

K: Do you have a different processes when photographing a model as opposed taking a personal portrait of a family member or friend?

FH: The thing with photography is that it’s made out of two very opposed elements and sources. On one hand, you have your own imagination of what you think about the person or situation, and which you would like to express. For instance, there is a young child which is born to my wife, which is my child and I see them for the first time. I have all sort of expectations and imaginations before I photograph that child. On the other hand, the actual face of the child says something that has nothing to do with my expectation and brings something which I didn’t expect and I didn’t even want to show.

When I think of photographing my grandchild as a newborn, I thought he looked like a little old man. So, it brings something that wasn’t what I wanted to show and comes into the photograph. I then look at the screen, and say, “this maybe how he will look 50 years from now.” There’s what I want to show, and what people, things, or situations will show about themselves. What’s so fascinating about a photograph is that the two come together.

In the photograph with the girl with the horse, there was a girl who was there to show her dress, and was paid for it. There was the horse, who was there for his own reasons, and brought another message. It’s this meeting of two things, which is interesting.

Don’t forget to check out Frank Horvat’s exhibit at Izzy Gallery, located at 1255 Bay Street. You can see more of Horvat’s works on his personal website, HORVATLAND. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Hanging with Hollerado: A Conversation on New Music, Touring, and Politics

As we grow up, we often dream of pursuing a career with our best friends from childhood. While more often than not, over time, our early years of entrepreneurship between lemonade stands, babysitting, and walking our neighbours dog fades away. After growing up on the same street in small town in Ontario, the four-person collective, Hollerado, has made their dreams into a reality.

Hollerado is certainly no stranger to the Canadian tour circuit. They have toured with big names such as Sum 41, Weezer, and Passion Pit. They have also been nominated for several Juno awards, and most recently have played at Canadian Music Week. Their third studio album, Born Yesterday is now available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music.

We had the chance to chat with Hollerado about the message behind their music and their love for GT Snow Racers.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you meet and form the band?

Hollerado: We met a long time ago, on an island in the Rideau River in a place called Manotick. We first played in our garage, right next to our dad’s old motorcycle and a pile of toboggans and GT Snow Racers.

K: What’s your favourite aspect of performing in Toronto?

H: Getting to the show on the streetcar! Nothing better than riding the Rocket to rock it!

K: Your first album, Record in a Bag was released in 2009 as a free digital download. What is the biggest transformation from this early record to your newest record, Born Yesterday?

H: A lot has happened in the world since 2009, and it’s hard not to be a reflection of that change and transformation, which is a good thing.  So, our views have broadened, in terms of what we sing about, but at the same time we still want to remain how we are.

K: In your early years, you spent some time in Montreal where you built your name. What is it about the music scene in Montreal that helped you grow as a band?

H: Montreal is cheap, so we could spend a lot of time writing and playing, and not a lot of time working to pay rent.  And compared to the hilly topography of Manotick, Montreal was a bustling, flat, metropolis; a barren wasteland when it came to GT Snow racing hills. Again, we were forced to write and play music to pass the time.

K: You have been nominated for 3 Juno awards, (one in 2011, one in 2012, and one in 2014) what was this experience like?  

H: It’s a great way to catch up with your friends in other bands that you never see because you’re always touring.  Plus, getting to watch Nickelback perform every year is great.

K: Currently, you are on tour with Sum 41. What is your favourite part about touring? Is it ever hard to be away from home for too long?

H: Our love of playing live is a big reason why we do this.  There’s nothing more exciting for us than connecting with a crowd, and feeling like they’re invested in the show just as much as we are.  It can be strange being away from home for a month or more at a time though, no question.  But little moments on the road, and support from our friends and family back home, make it doable.  And sometimes brands will reach out and try and make your life a little more comfortable if they see you’re touring across Canada in the winter or something. They might give you some free gear to go have fun on the hills in exchange for the odd plug in an interview.

K: Your video for “Americanarama” has gained over 1.4 Million YouTube views. What was your first reaction to its success?

H: It was a lot of fun making that video.  We expected our friends to think it was cool, but never thought it would be seen by as many people as it did.

K: Your new single, “Grief Money” has a pretty powerful video and message. What inspired this?  

H: Grief Money was written before Trump was even a candidate, but it was still a reaction to the dark side of politics.  We don’t hate politicians in general, but it does feel like corruption, fear-mongering, greed and opportunism are out of control.

K: Would you describe it as a protest song? 

H: I think it’s more of an anger song than a protest song!

K: If you could collab with any other artists, who would it be and why?

H: Thundercat because they are groovy beyond belief. And we love groovy.

K: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

H: We just want to keep playing music, write songs we’re proud of, and play in space some day.

Check out their new album, Born Yesterday and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Tagging along with Texas King at Canadian Music Week

As a fan of most genres of music, and Canadian talent in particular, I was excited to attend this year’s Canadian Music Week from April 18th to 23rd and check-in with a few bands I was excited to see live. Canadian Music Week, or CMW for short, showcased a plethora of local and international artists that were either up-and-coming, or seasoned veterans. After a long, luxurious Easter weekend where I nearly sent myself into a food coma, I was geared up for the long week ahead, mentally and physically preparing myself for long days at work, followed by late nights in different Toronto concert halls.

I began my week on Tuesday at Adelaide Hall, where I planned to meet up with the London-based band, Texas King. Formed in 2012 by front man and lead-singer, Jordan MacDonald, Texas King soon grew to be a four person collective with Colin Gray as lead guitar and back-up vocals, Phil Spina on bass, and Rob Shipway on drums. The band holds a regular slot at CMW as this is their fourth or fifth year playing the festival. Along with Canadian Music Week, Texas King has played NXNE, Scene Fest, and KOI Fest.

I tagged along with Jordan, Phil, Colin and fill-in drummer, Mark Swan throughout the night and dished on music, their early history, and what its like to be an independent artist.

 

Once meeting up with band members, Jordan MacDonald and Phil Spina, we began to walk over to Adelaide Hall. I had known Jordan since my early years in high school and ever since then had followed the success of his band. The first Texas King EP holds some of my favourite songs to which I know all the lyrics. While the EP was released in 2013, it currently stands as the main source of music currently available to the public by Texas King. Before chatting with Jordan and Phil, I had expectations of hearing the EP in its entirety at the show, but Jordan confirmed that, while it is a classic, the band has created an onslaught of music since then and has their debut album ready to be released at any moment.

As we walk over to the musical hall, I ask if the band is currently seeking representation, especially in regards to the release date of their new album. Jordan responds, “We’ve been shopping [the album] around different labels and stuff. Then we kind of hit this standstill with this one label we were talking to, so now we’re just kind of doing this final showcase thing.”

On April 29th, the band is performing a showcase at the Horseshoe Tavern. While the band has performed at the Horseshoe prior to this show, they are hoping to use this specific showcase as a way to gain recognition and attention of certain label representatives who frequent this venue.

I comment on the importance of the Horseshoe Tavern as a music venue. Jordan agrees and adds, “it’s good for showcases too because industry people know that bar and they know that you’re not going to be able to play there if you’re shit.”

We laugh, and Phil adds to the conversation by stating that with, “certain venues it’s hard to get people out to. Nothing against those venues, but there are certain venues that people like to go to. If you play somewhere cool, like Sneaky Dees, odds are, people will want to go there anyway and they’ll decide to check us out. As opposed to a smaller place, where people don’t know where it is, or sometimes the bands are hit and miss there.”

 

                                                                                                         Photo: Courtesy of Texas King

As we continue walking, I try poking around and getting more information about their upcoming album. While they answered all of my questions, they still are keeping most of the information on the down-low in order to build suspense and allow for the work to be interpreted when the time is right. I asked if the album had yet been mastered, to which Phil replied, “Yeah, it was mastered a few months ago. It’s pretty much all done. We’re in the art stage, it’s the only thing left. We just need to get artwork and then it will be ready to put out.”

I then asked if the band was currently looking for for artists to submit their work and if they were shopping it out that way. Phil noted that their drummer was responsible for handling the band’s graphics. He was responsible for their website design, and their merch design, because of this, he assumes that Rob will probably create their artwork for the album.

                                                                                                                Photo by: Kimberley Drapack

Once we entered the venue, another band, The Honest Heart Collective was currently in the middle of their sound check. We hung around and listened to part of their set. Texas King is currently touring with The Honest Heart Collective and urged me to check out their music. The two remaining band members, Colin and fill-in drummer, Mark, soon joined us after struggling to find parking.

Texas King soon took the stage and settled in quickly to their designated roles. After plugging in their equipment, and making sure they had everything in place, they began their sound check which brought a sense of nostalgia to the small space. The band played two new songs off their upcoming album, along with an older song, titled “Come Find Me” from their 2013 EP.

After a quick sound check, I tagged along Jordan and went outside for a smoke break. I asked if he was still the main songwriter of the group, to which he replied, “I still write all the songs. There’s a couple exceptions – a couple tunes where someone will come up with something, but for the most part, I write the tunes and bring it in still skeleton like. I still write most of them on my acoustic.”

Jordan finished the last drag of his cigarette and added, “I still imagine it in my head and then bring it to the band room.”

After sound check, we had some time to kill before the band’s slot in the showcase at 11pm. Around 6:30, I tagged along with Colin, Phil, and Mark, in search of some sort of food before our long night. I asked about the whereabouts of their resident drummer, Rob, to which Phil replied: “He was supposed to be back a couple of days ago, but work sort of fisted him and said we’re adding another day. He told work that he can’t stay, but they’re making him.”

Colin laughed and chimed in, “Imagine how badass it would have been if he did fly in and arrive just in time for somebody to pick him up and drop him off at the venue, and as he walks in, someone throws him a pair of sticks and he catches them out of midair.”

Phil replies, “That would be bad ass, but that would give me the worst anxiety all day.”

 

                                                                                                         Photo by: Kimberley Drapack

We then move onto the topic of work outside the band. I ask each member what job they currently have to be able to support the job they actually want to do. It becomes a funny conversation, the notion that in order to pursue a creative role, one must find another, (and sometimes multiple) job(s) in order to support their passion projects. Phil states that he works at a venue in London, and Colin replies that he has plays other people’s music, rather than his own.

Upon topics of origin stories, we recounted the early years of the band and how they formed their collective. Phil replied, “when we originally started with our first drummer, we were all in Fanshawe, and then our original drummer left 8 months or a year in. Our current drummer also went to Fanshawe, but we didn’t meet him there. I played in a band with him before. But the three of us met in the same program.”

Jordan and Colin got started in 2012 in their first year of college as an acoustic duo, and later, Phil and Rob joined the band to create the rest of Texas King. While finishing their final year of college, the band released their debut EP. Colin adds, “we released the it right during the end of exams.”

We returned to the venue and chatted with other band members playing the showcase that night. We laughed at a typo on the CMW handbook that said, “Mississausage Showcase” rather than the intended, “Mississauga Showcase.” One member of a Montreal band playing before Texas King stated that he used to play in a band called, “Crushed Luther”, and were once billed as “Crushed Leather.” Conversations like these had me triple checking my notes to make sure I had my own facts straight.

During our downtime, I chatted more with the band to get a sense of what Toronto venues they had under their belts. Phil listed off, “The Horseshoe Tavern, Sneaky Dees, The Drake, The Bovine Sex Club.” Colin added, “we’ve played a lot of places. You name anything on Queen and we’ve done it.”

 

                                                                                                                   Photo: by Kimberley Drapack

In comparison to the previously listed venues in Toronto, Adelaide Hall, which they were playing that night, had a promising set up. Audience members can get pretty close to the stage and right into the action. There’s even the chance of creating a pit. I asked if they encouraged this type of behaviour and Colin chimed in: “Yeah. Well, not like a pit where they kill each other, but Jordan is good at getting people to come up. He is charismatic and gets people who are bumming around the outskirts to come closer when the show starts.”

Along with Jordan’s ability to get the crowd amped up, the band has a great set time for their showcase. Phil recalls an earlier CMW where they had a great deal of luck as well: “We were at the Hideout, our very first year at CMW and the show was on a Tuesday around 8PM. We thought that no one is going to be here, but it was pretty packed. That’s when we realized that with CMW, it goes out the window. Just because you’re playing on a Tuesday or Wednesday, it would normally be kind of shitty, but that year, across the street was tattoo rock parlour, and the show started later, but it was with, “Stuck on Planet Earth, The Dirty Nill, and The Reason.” A lot of people ended up coming to the Hideout for our show at 8PM, and then at 9:30PM, they went over to see the shows at the other venue. Jeff from Teenage Kicks came out and saw us and then after we were done as the night went on, everyone went across the street. So, it’s very much about when you play versus what other is going on that night.”

We circled back to the discussion of  the much anticipated album. I asked when exactly it would be released. Phil stated that they were trying to keep most of the information low on the radar, and as far as naming the album, they were “tossing around a couple of ideas, but I don’t think we’ve settled on one yet. We usually just tell people “it’s coming.”

That’s sort of the general music rule within music: you’ll get it when you get it and until then, you’ve got to be patient. Phil agrees, and adds, “I don’t usually feel like explaining to people that there’s so much more behind it than just releasing music.”

                                                                                                                       Photo by: Kimberley Drapack

As the showcase began, we huddled backstage and tossed around stories as the bands playing before them set the tone for the evening.  We got on the topic of funny tour stories, and Phil recalled a time when he had to get 10 stitches in his hand before a show. Colin piped in, “we were rock climbing in Sudbury on a fine afternoon.”

Phil continues retelling the story and says, “we were going from Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury, with plenty of time. On the sides of the roads, there’s a bunch of boulders – huge rocks, that are loose. After going and checking out a river, we decided we should leave, because we had to get loaded and get ready for soundcheck…”

Colin adds again, “after having a great day…”

Phil laughs. “We were 15 mins outside of Sudbury and it was the last show of the tour before going home. We were climbing up the boulders to get up to the road, and one of the ones I stepped on was loose. It slid out and I fell forward and instinctually put out my hands to catch myself and one of the rocks was a corner, the edge of the rock went right into my hand. I cut the artery. I was bleeding a lot and I needed two stitches just to close up the artery.”

I asked if they had flown into panic mode as soon as the injury happened. Phil stated that he knew right away that he needed stitches and Colin added, “Robbie ripped off his shirt in a heartbeat and wraps his hand. Jordan was in the van already and we were yelling, “start the van!”

Phil continued the story. “Jordan was sleeping. We made it back to the van, and Jordan is just waking up from his nap and there I was, gushing blood.”

Colin ended the saga by stating: “when we got to the hospital, the nurse wrapped his hand and said the wait would be around 20 minutes, a pretty reasonable time, and we got out to the waiting room, and within 4 minutes, it was already completely soaked in blood and dripping. We had to go back and be like, can you re-wrap this? They then rushed us to the front.”

I fished around for more stories, as I knew they had more to tell. Colin retells a story during one of their earlier years at Canadian Music Week. “Another time during Canadian Music Week, were at the Dakota and drinking with an industry guy and we were having jäger bombs, having a great time. We were new to this whole CMW thing but we knew this guy from another conference we were at before and he took us under his wing and brought us to an after hours party at the Bovine Sex Club. We walked in and I remember there are all these people… two members of The Trews, the guitar player from Billy Talent and John Lennon’s son, who does a solo project. It was sick, we were welcomed and then that night, we were doing a funny snap story together, cracking beers with a bunch of people with our arms around them, and seeing who we could get on the story. We got the bass player of The Trews to get on a snap story with us and crack a beer. He didn’t know: we were just like, “hey man, get on this snap story with us!” and we cracked a beer and took a sip together. It was probably our coolest snap story to date.”

At this point they are getting ready to perform and Colin ends with: “Another time, we forgot Robbie’s drum kit. But you probably should add that.”

                                                                                                           Photo: Courtesy of Texas King

Later after their set, Jordan and I stand outside the venue and reflect on the show. The energy was incredible, just as I remember it being, and as audience members trickle out of the venue, Jordan gets many words of praise.

He told me that in between sound check and their show, he went over to a bar close by where they claimed to have drinks for $2.50. After ordering a double bourbon, the bartender asks for $19.50. We laugh, and after asking why he didn’t ask the bartender about the mix-up, Jordan claims that it wasn’t the right time, as there was a crowd of guys standing around him in suits who were next up to get a drink. He adds, “yeah, they were just there, being rich, and as soon as I heard the price they were looking at me like, “you got a problem with that? Is it too much?” So, I just had to be like… just take half the money I have for the whole week.”

It was now around 12AM and I was ready to start my long journey home. Jordan told me to hang out, but I politely declined and as I had a train to catch. Before leaving, I had one last question that I was surprised I didn’t know the answer to. I asked Jordan to tell me the story behind the name of the band.

Jordan put up his right hand and said, “It’s from my adoptive name, Austin James. It’s a little word flay with the fingers. If you go Austin Texas and King James, then in the middle there, is Texas King. It’s dumb, but it seemed clever at the time.”

He explains that he was renamed Jordan Andrew MacDonald. “Yeah, my parents switched it up. You can do that with dogs, and apparently, people too.”

I ask what is next for Texas King. For now, if a label doesn’t work out, they plan on releasing the album independently, as they’ve done from the beginning with their music. “We’ll do it indie as we’ve done with the EP and stuff, tour it out of the van, make our own copies.” The first EP was self-produced and self-recorded and anyone who has self-recorded and self-promoted their own music knows that it requires a lot of time, manpower, and money, which isn’t always abundant during one’s early years.

With their debut album, they did things a little more professionally, while still having a hand in every part of the process. As of this current moment in time, Texas King remains independent and and without any external industry help.

                                                                                                                Photo: Courtesy of Texas King

Another goal on the horizon is getting Texas King on the radio. “We’re putting out a single,” says Jordan. I wondered if it was one of the newer songs I heard this evening, to which he replied, “no.”

Artists like Jordan have a pile of songs at the ready as his creativity never stops. I wonder then, in the current climate of awaiting a record deal, do artists often fall to the wayside, their creativity tested and tried over again, while they relentlessly self-promote their work that deserves a higher recognition? Bands like Texas King are doing extremely well, upping the roster at CMW and as I’m sure we’ll eventually see, headlining shows, and occupying prime spots in the showcase.

Jordan refers to a song they debuted tonight, titled, “Small Towns.” Along with this single, they have a few more in store, but they are not playing them quite yet.

On the other side, there is a cool self-starter vibe with Texas King where being independent is a large part of who they are. Jordan states that it’s “cool being indie because then you get to make all your own money, but I just wish there was more to make.” I add the fact that you also get to own your own music – your masters, what you release as your single, and so forth. Jordan agrees with this point and we call it a day.

 

 

Keep an eye out for Texas King‘s debut album coming soon and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.