Stuart Laughton’s “Trumpet Romance”, Fringe, July 17-27, 2014

July 17 to 27, 2014. Artword Theatre presents Stuart Laughton’s “Trumpet Romance: a wild journey in search of music at the 2014 Hamilton Fringe Festival, at Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne Street.

Trumpet Romance is written and performed by Stuart Laughton with an array of musical instruments including trumpet, guitar, harmonica, piano. Directed by Ronald Weihs, who also did the script development.

Stuart Laughton picked up a trumpet when he was nine, and it was love at first breath. He began a stellar classical career: Canadian Brass at age 19 and La Scala orchestra at 23. But the siren call of B.B. King’s guitar took him on a wild musical journey, playing roots music in Porkbelly Futures, until it all came together by a lake in Haliburton in R. Murray Schafer’s And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon.

For more about Stuart Laughton:

Produced by Artword Theatre.
Venue is Artword Artbar, 15 ColbourneStreet, a Fringe Bring-Your-Own-Venue.

TICKETS: $10  60 minutes, all-ages. SHOW TIMES: Thu July 17 8:00 pm, Sat July 19 7:00 pm, Sun July 20 4:00 pm, Tues July 22 8:00 pm, Wed July 23 7:00 pm, Fri July 25 7:00 pm, Sat July 26 9:00 pm, Sun July 27 6:00 pm (final show)

PRESS RELEASE: Artword Theatre presents Trumpet Romance: a wild journey in search of music, the story of a life in music told by Stuart Laughton, an internationally renowned classical trumpet player. At the age of nine, Stuart blew his first note on the trumpet, and fell in love. He was playing concerts while still in elementary school. But when a high-school friend played him Paul Butterfield and B.B. King, young Stuart’s musical imagination expanded to embrace the all kinds and varieties of music. Principal trumpet in the Hamilton Philharmonic at 17, and at La Scala Opera at 23, Stuart’s musical explorations led him to found the Canadian roots music band Porkbelly Futures and to devote ten summers to the epic musical Patria Cycle staged in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve by Canada’s visionary composer, R. Murray Shafer. Stuart has also performed world-wide as a member of Canadian Brass.

Ronald Weihs explains: “Stuart came to our attention back in March with his project Radio Dial. Stuart and I began meeting weekly, while he talked and I listened. Stuart’s story is full of surprises, about a life full of twists and turns, as music leads him on a complex and unexpected path.”

Artword Theatre has established a reputation in Hamilton for innovative original theatre with strong local stories, often with a musical basis. Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford built and operated Artword Theatre in downtown Toronto from the late-90s to 2006, creating numerous theatre productions and providing a venue for theatre, dance and music productions by other companies. They set up in Hamilton in 2008, where they continue to create and produce original theatre (Rascals and Numskulls, Tobacco Troubadour, Sunamabeach, Scroogissimo, James Street) and documentary theatre projects Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy, 1812: The Songbook. They own and operate Artword Artbar, a venue for live music and theatre.

REVIEW of  Trumpet Romance: a wild journey in search of music
by Gary Smith

Stuart Laughton is an artist too. He played in the orchestra when Baryshnikov defected at O’Keefe Centre. He played for prima ballerina Carla Fracci at La Scala in Milan. Our great diva Maureen Forester burst out of her dressing room to applaud a Laughton performance.

The man has stories to tell, and he tells them in his hour-long Trumpet Romance: a wild journey in search of music. He talks about Porkbelly Futures, the thinking man’s bar band. He sings Bon Vivant and strums his guitar. He tells of glory days performing with The Canadian Brass.

The stories are told with affection and candour. Punctuated by some glorious trumpet sounds, it’s enhanced with images of vintage Toronto’s Yonge Street, when Steeles and the Zanzibar were more than strip joints.

There are photos of Laughton’s wife, ballerina Wendy Reiser, the Canadian wild and Milan’s great opera house. Ron Weihs’ direction never gets in the way of Laughton’s honesty.

Trumpet Romance: A Wild Journey in Search of Music

Review by Channah Cohen in View Magazine

In Trumpet Romance, currently playing at Artword Theatre, Stuart Laughton, trumpet player and musician extraordinaire, takes his audience on what he affectionately calls “a wild journey in search of music.” Using narration, musical instruments (trumpets, guitar, harmonica), and a series of projected images, Laughton does, in fact, take us on a journey that is not only entertaining and filled with gentle self-irony and humour. It is also profoundly moving and ultimately challenges us to look beyond the obvious in music and to experience its very essence. The journey itself is well crafted (by Laughton and Weihs), starting with what becomes ultimately a question: “Bon Vivant.” What, indeed, is a “bon vivant”?

In Laughton’s case, he falls in love with the trumpet as a child, exploring the possibilities of the sound he — and the instrument — can make. Playing music becomes his life, leading to a distinguished career on the concert stage, but the world of concert halls, where the beauty of music can triumph (we witness a gorgeous moment in La Scala), that beauty can also become undermined by human pride, self-interest. Besides, music is not simply an ornament for the life of the “bon vivant,” not a cultural indulgence. Instead, as Louis Armstrong said about jazz: “You can even live by it.” Classical, blues, jazz, rock, experimental—music is not simply to be consumed but to enter into.

And so we accompany Laughton to Murray Schafer’s Patria Project in the Haliburton wilds and we listen and watch as music finds its echo among the trees, in the air, in the life force that transcends everything. For that is what “Bon Vivant” means.

Trumpet Romance is an extraordinary experience: beautifully put together, performed, and not to be missed.

“James Street” Apr 27-May 11, 2014, at Artword Artbar

April 27 to May 11, 2014,  Artword Theatre presents “James Street” a mad musical dash through the history of Hamilton. All at Artword Artbar on our new theatrical stage! New songs, new dance, since our December 2012 production.
Hamilton`s official Town Crier from 1850 meets a modern Hamiltonian from the North End, right on James Street!
Performed by The Artword Theatre Ensemble: Charly Chiarelli as modern day Hamiltonian, Jeremy Shand as Town Crier Paola Brown,
plus Paula Grove, Valeri Kay, Gordon Odegaard and Ryan Sero as everyone else [Surveyor and Helper, Land Promoters, Pioneer Woman and Man, Dentist, George Hamilton, James Durand, Nathaniel Hughson, Immigrant Woman, Robert Murray Police Chief, Newsboy, Farmer, Editor, Auctioneer, Mr. Cummings, Woman, Wanzer, Mr. Ryan, Workers, Hugh Cossart Baker, Mrs. Baker and family, Billy Carroll, HSR Conductor 1906, Trolley Girl, WWI Recruiters, Marion Simpson, Soldier, Rocco Perri, Bessie Starkman, WWII soldiers from RHLI, Evelyn Dick, citizens in 40s and 50s and 60s…]

Previews Sunday April 27, 3 pm & Tuesday April 29, 8 pm; opens April 30, runs to May 11, 2014, Tues-Sat 8 pm, Sun mats 3 pm. Tickets: previews $10, regular $25, advance $20 (online or call 905-543-8512)
An Artword Theatre production, written and directed by Ronald Weihs, with original music by Mark McNeil and choreography by Learie McNicolls. Produced and designed by Judith Sandiford. Music performed by Mark McNeil, Ronald Weihs and the Ensemble.

Review May 02, 2014 by Gary Smith for the Hamilton Spectator

Charly Chiarelli, Ryan Sero, Valeri Kay, Jeremy Shand, Paula Grove, front: Mark McNeil, Gordon Odegaard

Musical soul to a treasured time

If you missed Greenwich Village in the early ’60s, when The Café Bizarre and The Village Gate were the in-places to go, don’t worry. You can find it all again, just off Hamilton’s James Street. The cigarette haze is gone. No one’s doing drugs at the corner table. The chairs aren’t battered and broken. Otherwise things look very much the same.

Walk into the Colbourne Street Artbar and you enter a world that evokes the past. Right now, there’s a delightful little show being performed by Artword Theatre. Happily, it provides a lusty connection with Hamilton’s past. It’s called James Street, and it pays homage to a neighbourhood that’s just evolved and evolved.

The show, however, is much more than that. It’s a love song to Hamilton, the good, the bad and everything in-between.

An ensemble cast embraces comic and romantic moments, doing robust service to Mark McNeil’s evocative score.

McNeil’s music finds exquisite memories of Gore Park on a warm Sunday evening, the old Eaton’s store with its carefully coiffed elevator operators, sporting oh-so white gloves. There’s the old outdoor market with the cries of live chickens. And the holler of street corner newsboys hawking The Hamilton Spectator, crying the day’s headlines.

James Street is a roller-coaster ride to the past. Anyone over a certain age will smile at the memory of the old popcorn seller on the corner with his gaily painted cart. They’ll smile at the remembrance of the Green Room in Eaton’s, where cherry pie was featured on the menu. There are the trolleys and the street cars that took passengers up and down our main streets, more romantic I think than any LRT.

Ron Weih’s delightful patchwork of a script offers a conduit to the past. There are wild recollections of our infamous crime “stars,” Evelyn Dick and Rocco Perri. And there are moments of political power with the formation of the union movement and recollections of the Underground Railway.

McNeil’s music, played by the composer himself on guitar and ukulele, helped by Weihs on fiddle and guitar and Charly Chiarelli on harmonica, is the show’s heart and soul.

With McNeil and the cast furnishing energetic vocals, this James Street score ought to be captured on disc so we can enjoy it again at home.

Some of the little snippets that make up Weihs’ script are better than others. No surprise there. It’s no secret James Street works best when it isn’t trying to teach us a history lesson.

No matter, you’ll love the banter between 1840 Town Crier Jeremy Shand and Chiarelli’s 2014 street dude. You’ll have fun watching Paula Grove rock her socks off with Gordon Odegaard in Rocco and Bessie. You’ll be charmed by everything Ryan Sero does, changing characters with the donning, or the doffing, of a hat.

You’ll love the way Valeri Kay’s eyes light up every time she takes a dance step. And when McNeil sings Private Riley, a haunting folk ballad about the waste of war, you’d better have a hanky.

Learie McNicholls’ choreography is a little on the hop, stamp and kick side. And not all cast members look comfortable doing it.

What matters most though, is this James Street is a funny, fuzzy valentine to Hamilton. Go see it and reclaim some touching and funny moments.

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 30 years.

James Street
An Artword Theatre Production at Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne St.
to May 11, Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.
May 3, Margaret Houghton pre-show presentation at 8 p.m., show at 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25, advance purchase $20

Scroogissimo! a new seasonal comedy, Dec 3-15, 2013

December 3 to 15, 2013. Artword Theatre (at Artword Artbar) presents a new comedy written by Ryan Sero and Charly Chiarelli, based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Charly Chiarelli plays a crusty Sicilian north-ender called Scrugi, and our show is called (what else?) Scroogissimo! Throw in a dash or two of zany comedy (Sero-style), some Christmas carols, and plenty of fun. Directed and dramaturged by Ronald Weihs. With the Artword Theatre Ensemble: Pamela Gardner, Paula Grove, Valeri Kay, Gordon Odegaard, Jeremy Shand, with Jennifer Lockman on keyboard.
Where: Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne Street.
Preview: Tues Dec 3 at 8 pm, $10. Runs Wed-Sat Dec 4-7 and Dec 11-14 at 8 pm; matinées Sun Dec 8 and Dec 15 at 3 pm. Tickets: regular $25, advance $20, children $12
Seating limited. To reserve: 905-543-8512 or online

PRESS RELEASE: Artword Theatre presents a new play Scroogissimo! in December 2013

The North End meets Charles Dickens in Scroogissimo!, Artword Theatre’s new play, a comedy based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The show runs the first two weeks of December 2013 in the intimate setting of Artword Artbar.  Charly Chiarelli is featured as “Ebenezu Scrugi”, a Christmas-hating old Hamiltonian from Racalmuto, Sicily, who finds himself haunted by three ghosts of the Past, Present and Future. The zany script is by Ryan Sero, with some help from Charly and director Ronald Weihs.

The idea for the play came from Charly, in a conversation last spring with Weihs and Judith Sandiford, Artword’s producer and designer. Charly, who lives in Kingston, was in a big production there of A Christmas Carol every year for sixteen years. Charly said, “I had one line, but after sixteen years, I know all the lines.” Ron and Charly thought, “Why not do our own version here? A North End version.” Charly did some of Scrooge’s lines North-End style, and Ron and Judith were soon aching with laughter.

So Charly got to work this summer. He “translated” all Scrooge’s speeches into North-End English. He dictated them over the phone to Judith, who tried to figure out how to spell the words like “umbaggo” (humbug). Meanwhile, Ron had casually mentioned to Ryan Sero, Hamilton playwright and actor, that Ryan might write the script. Ryan replied, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Ryan took the “Scrugi” speeches, and the original Dickens story, and put them through his own zany comedic  mind. The result is great fun, “datsa fo’ shu.” There are the ghosts of course (Christmas Present is a pasta-loving ample lady named Natalia), the parties, the revelations, all with a dash of Marx Brothers, and a touch of the Dickens social criticism.

The cast also includes Pamela Gardner, Paula Grove, Valeri Kay, Gordon Odegaard, and Jeremy Shand, all experienced practitioners of the Artword Ensemble style, with music by Jennifer Lockman (piano) and Ron “the Fiddler” Weihs.

Artword’s approach to theatre is based on ensemble acting. Instead of using elaborate sets and costumes to depict formal scenes, the actors present the story in a non-realistic, storytelling manner, taking different roles as needed, surprising the audience with sudden transformations, and incorporating music, mime and dance. A high degree of skill and sensitivity is required of the performers, who all participate in the development of the production. The actors in Scroogissimo have all been in previous Artword productions, most recently in James Street and Tobacco Troubadour.

Ron and Judith have worked with Charly on all his one-man shows about Hamilton. Ron directed, and Judith designed, the first productions of Cu’Fu? and Mangiacake at Artword Theatre in Toronto – productions which were later filmed for Bravo Television. They also brought Charly’s third play in the Hamilton trilogy Sunamabeach to the stage in 2009. Last November, Charly was in his first Artword Ensemble show, James Street, performed at the Lyric Theatre.

Tobacco Troubadour, returns May 1-5, 2013

TobaccoTroubadour_poster7_2013_300_660Artword Theatre’s lively musical, Tobacco Troubadour, is returning to Hamilton for six performances at The Lyric Theatre, May 1 to 5, 2013. Based on the songs and memories of J.P. Riemens, Tobacco Troubadour is a tender love story set in the glory days of tobacco farming. This is the final show in Artword Theatre’s four-play season at The Lyric 2012-2013.

Tobacco Troubadour is based on the songs of J.P. Riemens, a well-known songwriter and performer in the Hamilton music scene. Ronald Weihs wrote the script and directs the production, performed by actors from the Artword Theatre Ensemble: Pamela Gardner, Paula Grove, Gordon Odegaard and Ryan Sero. Music is performed live by J.P. Riemens and the Fabulous Barflies: Brian Griffith and Carrie Ashworth.

Tobacco Troubadour is a musical play set in Ontario’s tobacco belt in the early 1960s. It begins as a concert by J.P. Riemens and the Fabulous Barflies, a hot country rock and swing band from Hamilton. When J.P. starts to reminisce about his childhood on a tobacco farm, the actors of the Artword Ensemble bring his words to life. They enact a bitter-sweet love story about two young people – Paul and Emily – who grow up together working in tobacco. The story is based on J.P.’s own experiences, both in the tobacco fields and on the road as a working musician.

The Barflies: JP Riemens, Brian Griffith, Carrie Ashworth. Actors: Gordon Odegaard, Pamela Gardner, Ryan Sero, Paula Grove

Tobacco Troubadour is a rich and colourful story about strong-willed individuals with a great capacity for survival – with style, pride and a great sense of fun. They worked hard and played hard. The parties on a Saturday night are legendary.

Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford of Artword Theatre attended a concert by Riemens in 2008, and were struck by the vivid storytelling in J.P.’s songs. Weihs phoned him up the next day and asked if he would consider working on a play based on his songs. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to do”, Riemens replied. “It’s a show about growing up in Ontario’s tobacco belt. I’ve written some songs that I’ve never recorded. I’ve been saving them for something like this.” One of the songs was Roosevelt’s Dance Hall Saturday Night, about a venue not far from Langton, that hosted some of the top bands in Ontario. “There was a whole circuit in tobacco country”, Riemens says. “Some of the top musicians in North America came from that area, and played those dance halls.”

Hearing J.P.’s songs, Weihs was struck with how many of them were ballads about love just out of reach. They seemed episodes in an – as yet unwritten – story. He taped J.P. reminiscing about growing up in the tobacco belt, and wove the stories and the songs together into a script.

Tobacco Troubadour ran for two weeks in April 2009 in Hamilton at The Pearl Company. The audiences loved it and the critics raved. Brian Morton, in View Magazine, call it “truly great”, pointing out that “Artword Theatre’s new version of the oft-told tale of a life in music is one that is truly authentic, and is chock full of local references that add a hometown resonance to this production”. The production toured to Delhi in July 2009, playing to enthusiastic audiences who knew all about the glory days of tobacco.

Artword Theatre – Ronald Weihs (Artistic Director) and Judith Sandiford (Managing Director/Resident Designer) – came to Hamilton after a twelve-year history in downtown Toronto. They operated a major theatre facility and art gallery on Portland Street, near King and Bathurst. Artword Theatre develops new, original work that is entertaining, thought-provoking, and relevant to its community. The productions are grounded in an ensemble approach to acting, using music, dance and inventive theatrical techniques.

J.P. (Paul) Riemens is a singer/songwriter/producer/performer/bandmaster and all-around music bon vivant. He is well schooled in the areas of roots/rock and country, and pop and jazz. J.P. is equally at home in an intimate acoustic environment as well as the Concert Hall. Until recently, Riemens co-owner and engineer of the world-renowned Grant Avenue Studio, having worked with such luminaries as Gordon Lightfoot, Daniel Lanois, Keith Glass and Willie P. Bennett. As a performer, Riemens has opened for such acts as Ashley MacIsaac, Fred Eaglesmith, and Melanie Doane.

If Cows Could Fly, starring Allan Merovitz, Jan 30-Feb 3, 2013

Artword Theatre’s season at the Lyric Theatre continues with a revival of an Artword favourite, Allan Merovitz’s musical play If Cows Could Fly, from January 30 to February 3, 2013.
Allan Merovitz, a widely-known actor and Klezmer musician, grew up in Smiths Falls in the Ottawa Valley in a family of Hassidic Jews. If Cows Could Fly traces the story of his family making their way from Poland, Lithuania and Kishinev to the tiny rural Ontario community of Smiths Falls. The story of his family is a microcosm of the Jewish experience world-wide. In If Cows Could Fly, Allan has reconstructed the fragmented memories of his family in diaspora, and interspersed them with a wide range of musical styles: Yiddish songs, country-and-western ballads, as well as Klezmer and Ottawa Valley fiddle tunes.

Written and performed by Allan Merovitz. Directed and dramaturged by Ronald Weihs. Music direction by Frank Rackow. Music performed by Frank Rackow clarinet & saxophone, Jennifer Lockman keyboard, Ronald Weihs fiddle. Design by Judith Sandiford.

Allan Merovitz, 2008 show

Wed to Sun 8 pm, Sun 2 & 7:30 pm, $25, $19, $16.
For media interviews and group bookings, contact Associate Producer Valeri Kay 905-527-1633.

Allan tells how his Zaide escaped being conscripted into the Russian army by the Cossacks. How a ghost helped Frume leave her marriage (“get a get”) and start a new life with her two children. How Bubbe Oudel supported her family – and the whole neighbourhood – during the hungry depression. How Uncle Hy, war hero and demolition expert, solved the problem of “No Jews Allowed on this Road”.

The tales lead from villages in Poland and Bessarabia, to Antwerp, London, and on to the new world, Nova Scotia, Montreal, and finally Smiths Falls in the Ottawa Valley.

If Cows Could Fly, on IGTC stage 2008, news video

Running through all the stories is the indomitable spirit to survive, persist, and transcend. An impossible dream is said to come true only “if cows could fly”. Impossible? Maybe it’s just a matter of getting really good at something – making shoes, shooting pool, remembering who you are.

In 2008, Artword Theatre took If Cows Could Fly to Ottawa for a highly successful three-week run in the inaugural season of the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre. Patrick Langston of the Ottawa Citizen said “don’t miss this show”, and Alvina Ruprecht of the CBC said “I laughed, I cried, I had a wonderful time”. That summer If Cows Could Fly was featured at the 2008 Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront.

Ronald Weihs, Director’s Statement, 2013

Allan Merovitz and I have been friends for a long time. We first worked together on the Caravan Stage Company in 1977, traveling in horse-drawn wagons through the interior of British Columbia, performing Hands Up!, the story of the legendary train robber, Bill Miner. I had written the script for the show, as well as acting and playing the fiddle. Allan was wonderful as Shorty Dunn, Bill’s loyal companion.

I only realized recently that If Cows Could Fly ends right at that point. At the end of his play, Allan confides his crazy dream to his eccentric relative Leonard: “I think I’m going to go out west and be a cowboy”. And in Allan’s real life, that’s when he went out to join the Caravan.

In 1980, I met Judith Sandiford, and started up a theatre company on Vancouver Island. Allan played the bull cook in Highball!, a play about loggers that we toured to logging communities – as always, charismatic on stage, singing beautifully.

In 1982, back in Toronto, Allan told me about the project he had started, then called “Zaide Didn’t Want to be a Soldier”. He was interviewing his family, researching the history of the Jewish diaspora and working these two elements together. He showed me his first draft, and I watched a couple of early versions.

In 1993, Judith Sandiford and I started a studio theatre called Artword, on the second floor of an industrial building on Portland Street. Allan and I hoisted 3/4 inch drywall up to the ceiling, to muffle the sound of the feet walking above.

In 1998, Judith and I decided to lease the clothing factory beside our tiny theatre, and turn it into two theatre spaces and an art gallery. Allan was with us when we first paced through the building, trying to imagine it with the piles of fabric gone, stages here, dressing rooms there.

Allan Merovitz & Ronald Weihs, 2000, outside 75 Portland

We opened our new Artword Theatre in 1999. Looking back, I’m amazed at that first season: two African plays, Strindberg, Marivaux, concerts by the Amati Quartet, our own Festival of the Human Voice, dance works, it goes on and on. And in that first season were two works that I directed and Judith designed: Cu’Fu?, Charly Chiarelli’s hilarious and moving story about growing up Sicilian in Hamilton, and If Cows Could Fly, Allan’s enchanting account of growing up Jewish in Smiths Falls. (I never intended to specialize in plays about growing up something in somewhere. It just happened.)

Seven years later, the building was sold for condos. When the lights went down on our last production, we had eight days to vacate the building. Allan helped us move our stages, our seats, lights, cable, pipes into a 48-foot trailer. He stood with us watching as the trailer was towed away, to wait for us to find a new theatre.

After a year of fruitless searching in Toronto, a city gone condo-crazy, Judith and I were suddenly inspired to look for space in Hamilton. We made an offer on a beautiful old house in the east end, and a new adventure had begun. And our first project? – taking a new production of If Cows Could Fly to Ottawa in 2007-2008 (in the Irving Greenberg Theatre, with Allan staying with us in our new Hamilton house / rehearsal studio.

So for Judith and me, If Cows Could Fly is intertwined with our artistic lives, and Allan has been a companion-in-arms throughout.

I love this play – the characters, the songs, the humanity of it. It is about how people sail with courage into an unknown future, making lives for themselves. And for us – Judith, Allan, and myself – it has been a large part of our own voyage. I hope you like it.

Ronald Weihs, Artword Theatre, 2013

If Cows Could Fly: Performance history with Artword Theatre before 2013:

1. February 16 to March 12, 2000, written and performed by Allan Merovitz,
directed and dramaturged by Ronald Weihs, music directed and performed by Anne Lederman on piano, with Ronald Weihs on fiddle, designed by Chris Bryden,
premiere of the new full-length production, at Artword Theatre, 75 Portland St. Toronto

2. June 21 to July 14, 2001, written and performed by Allan Merovitz,
back again in a streamlined version, directed by Ronald Weihs, with Klezmer and Yiddish music by the Simcha Klezmer Band (Jarl Anderson on piano and mandolin, Ronald Weihs on fiddle), at Artword Theatre, 75 Portland St., Toronto

3. February 15 & 16, 2008 in Hamilton at the Downtown Arts Centre

Allan Merovitz, at IGTC, Ottawa, 2008

4. February 21 to March 9, 2008 in Ottawa at the new Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre mainspace. Artword remounts an Artword favourite. If Cows Could Fly is a musical play about growing up Jewish in Smiths Falls in the Ottawa Valley, written and performed by Allan Merovitz, with an onstage Klezmer band (Henri Oppenheim, accordion; Frank Rackow, clarinet; Ronald Weihs, fiddle). Directed and dramaturged by Ronald Weihs, designed by Judith Sandiford, produced by Barry Karp and Artword Theatre.

5. August 2008, special shows:
*Thurs August 28, 2008, at 7 pm, at Beth Jacob Synagogue in Hamilton ON. (preview show)
*August 31, 2008, 1:30 pm, Studio Theatre at Harbourfront, Toronto, Ashkenaz Festival.
*September 1, 2008 5:00 pm, Studio Theatre as above, both 90-minute version.

NEW! James Street, a musical dash through Hamilton history, Nov 29-Dec 8, 2012

james_street_smallNovember 29 to December 8, 2012. James Street: A mad musical dash through the history of Hamilton: Artword Theatre’s second production in its 2012-13 season at The Lyric is James Street, a light-hearted look at downtown Hamilton, from the founding of the town to the present day. Featuring a cast of six plus two onstage musicians, James Street is a patchwork quilt of colourful characters and amusing incidents.
Written and directed by Ronald Weihs
Songs written and performed by Mark McNeil
Cast: Charly Chiarelli, Valeri Kay, Gordon Odegaard, Ryan Sero, Jeremy Shand, Abigail Veenstra
Produced and designed by Judith Sandiford
Associate Director: Ryan Sero

The play, a new original play written and directed by Ronald Weihs, uses an inventive ensemble approach in which actors play multiple roles, and scenes change in a flash. Songs are by Mark McNeil, one of Hamilton’s finest singer-songwriters and a well-known journalist for the Hamilton Spectator. Charly Chiarelli plays a modern Hamiltonian who magically encounters a famous figure from the 1840s – Paola Brown, a leader in Hamilton’s black community and Hamilton’s official town crier (played by Jeremy Shand). After some initial sparring about who is in whose dream, the two find themselves witnesses to (and sometimes participants in) a fast-forward gallop through life on James Street.
They see how pioneer dentistry was done, witness George Hamilton and his cronies (Hughson and Durand) plot out the town, watch a farmer advertise for a wife “with a good back”, drop into Billy Carroll’s cigar shop and bookie joint to bet on the first Around the Bay Race, take a ride on the new Electric Railway – all depicted by Valeri Kay, Gordon Odegaard, Ryan Sero, and Abigail Veenstra. Mark McNeil appears onstage with guitar as a street singer, with his buddy Ron Weihs on fiddle.

Thursday to Saturday at 8 pm, Nov 29, 30, Dec 1, 6, 7, 8, 2012
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.
Thurs: $19 regular, $16 seniors/students; Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students/seniors

Two World Wars

There is a sequence honouring Hamilton’s soldiers through two World Wars. Mark’s song, “Private Riley”, imagines a universal soldier in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI), who fights in every engagement, from the Fenian raids to present-day Kandahar. The Rileys have adopted the song to celebrate their 150th anniversary, and are releasing a video, with the Regimental band playing along with Mark.

As the play approaches present day, the cast members recount some of the memories collected for the Spectator: the old Eaton’s at Christmas, the arrival of the trains at the CNR station, the creaky escalators in Zellers, Willie the elevator operator, the popcorn seller, the open-air market, climbing the James Street steps up the mountain, and a long father-son walk up the length of James Street.

Where the Idea Came From

The idea for James Street arose in 2010, when Mark was working on a special edition of The Spectator featuring a section about James Street. Mark had seen other plays by Artword Theatre (Rascals and Numskulls, Tobacco Troubadour) that used real events to create entertaining theatre. He suggested that Artword produce an original play, partly based on the first-person stories he was collecting and partly on other historical sources, to open when the special edition was published. Ron loved the idea, but not the time-frame, and so James Street, the play, became a project on its own.

The newspaper section featured a lengthy interview with the Hamilton’s best-known storyteller, Charly Chiarelli, whose one-man shows about growing up in the Sicilian North End, Cu’Fu and Mangiacake have been performed across Canada and in Europe and shown as films on Bravo Television. Wouldn’t it be great, Mark said to Ron, if Charly could be in the show? Ron had directed both Cu’Fu and Mangiacake, as well as the latest addition, Sunamabeach, so this arranged. Charly is happy to be in a show where he doesn’t have to do all the talking.

Artword Theatre

The Artword team, Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford, ran Artword Theatre, a facility in downtown Toronto, producing many plays of their own, for twelve years before coming to Hamilton in 2008. They produced four original plays at the Pearl Company in 2008-09: You Are What You Do, Rascals and Numskulls, Sunamabeach (by Charly Chiarelli) and Tobacco Troubadour . In 2009, Ron and Judith bought a little sports bar on Colbourne Street, just off James North, and turned it into the popular Artword Artbar, featuring music of all varieties, theatre, poetry and spoken word four nights a week, Wednesday to Saturday.

When Patrick Brennan announced plans for converting the Westside Concert Theatre into the new Lyric Theatre, he got in touch with Ron and Judith right away, offering to co-produce four shows with them. It was a delightful offer that Artword could not refuse. Artword Theatre is presenting four productions in the 2012-13 season: 1812-The Songbook (October 18 – 20), James Street (November 29, 30, December 1, 6, 7, 8), If Cows Could Fly (January 30 to February 3) and Tobacco Troubadour (May 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11).

For more information, contact Judith Sandiford,,

905-543-8512, cell: 905-912-9083
Artword Theatre
Artistic Director: Ronald Weihs
Managing Director: Judith Sandiford

Artword Theatre also runs Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne Street Hamilton,