You Are What You Do, Oct 16-16, 2008

October 16 to 26, 2008, Artword Theatre presents  You Are What You Do, an original Canadian musical written and directed by Ronald Weihs, is a celebration of working men and women in story and song. The show launches the Artword @ The Pearl theatre season. The play, first performed in 1994, is a theatrical collage of stories gathered from men and women about how work has shaped their lives.

“Better not pick that up, he goes
You just might drop it and smash your toes.
Don’t touch that, don’t climb on that beam,
On and on until I’m ready to scream…”

Valerie Kay and Paula Grove

The Radio Plays Love Songs, a jaunty country tune, is sung by a woman carpenter who was completing her third year apprenticeship and describes her confrontation with one journeyman who wouldn’t let her try anything difficult. Other characters include a plumber, a punch press operator, a high steel painter, a bus driver, a cocktail waitress, a street-wise counsellor for runaway girls, a parking lot attendant, a garbage collector, a factory worker, and one man who describes himself as a “putterer”.

You Are What You Do, a musical play, is:
written and directed by Ronald Weihs,
produced and designed by Judith Sandiford,
performed by Paula Grove, Valeri Kay,
Tanis MacArthur, Allan Merovitz,
Gordon Odegaard, Nea Reid,

with Jennifer Lockman on piano and Ronald Weihs on fiddle.

Gordon Odegaard, Valeri Kay, Ronald Weihs, and at the piano Jennifer Lockman

Thurs at 7:30 pm, pwyc; Fri & Sat at 7:30 $15 reg / $10 std/sen; Sun at 2:00 pm all tickets $10, at The Pearl Company, 16 Steven Street, Hamilton. Runs 90 minutes.

Artword Theatre’s first production in its new home, Artword @ The Pearl, is an original musical play celebrating the lives of working people, written and directed by Artword’s Artistic Director Ronald Weihs. The play, first performed in 1994, is a theatrical collage of stories gathered from men and women about how work has shaped their lives. The result is a high-spirited ensemble production, with a cast of six, that uses songs, mime and inventive staging to celebrate the energy and imagination of real people.

Tanis Macarthur

Back in 1994, You Are What You Do was Artword Theatre’s first production in its first home at 81 Portland Street in Toronto. After 12 years of intense activity in Toronto, Artword has moved to Hamilton and teamed up with The Pearl Company. Artword’s co-founders, Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford, chose You Are What You Do as a fitting way to inaugurate their new home in Hamilton.

“This is the kind of theatre we like to do. We use an ensemble approach in which the actors and musicians together interpret the life of the people around them. We believe in a theatre that is full of fun and theatricality, while it deals with things that matter.” says director Ronald Weihs.

For more information about Artword Theatre, call Judith Sandiford at 905-543-8512

You Are What You Do: review by Gary Smith, The Hamilton Spectator, Wed. Oct. 22, 2008

There’s a smart little show at The Pearl these days. It’s filled with sometimes joyous, sometimes sad reflections about how people absorb the identity of their work It’s beautifully written and directed by Ronald Weihs with an ensemble cast that quiver with earnest emotion.

Set against an evocative steel and wood landscape designed by Judith Sandiford, with projections that comment on the action onstage, it is a visually arresting experience.

It’s well worth your time. You Are What You Do continues Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 p.m. Artword at The Pearl, 16 Steven St.

You Are What You Do: Review by Brian Morton, View Magazine Oct 23-29, 2008

It’s rare to be there at the birth of something. But the first Artword production at the newly renovated theatre space at the Pearl Company is just that: the birth of something truly new and original on the local arts scene. The Artword Theatre Company is the latest in a series of cultural refugees from the Toronto Arts scene, who have now found a safe refuge in Hamilton’s fertile cultural soil.

You Are What You Do is a new play, with music by Artword Artistic Director Ron Weihs. It is a rare experience at the theatre, in that it successfully weaves many disparate elements to become something that is greater then the sum of its parts. Using songs and personal narrative, it gives us an insight into the lives of ordinary working Canadians; much like the characters that peopled the songs of the late great Hamilton folksinger Stan Rogers.

In Weihs’ play we find the “little people” who do what they have to in order to survive and yet still try to be happy in an imperfect world. Addiction, sexism, desperation, unemployment and homelessness are just a few of the issues the play addresses, but always with characters that have a keen awareness of their own vulnerabilities and needs. In the end they realise, sometimes you have to take whatever job you can get, and try to make something from the choice.

Several of the characters don’t survive the struggle, but along the way they discover something of what it is to be Canadian, what is it to be working class, and what it is to have to make a living in the real world. Based upon actual field recordings of workers on the job made over 20 years ago, playwright Weihs has constructed a drama that verges upon the poetic, as he perfectly captures the nuances of real people authentically speaking about their lives.

The play is structured as a 1970s style docudrama firmly rooted upon the models of Canadian theatre pioneers like George Luscombe at Toronto Workshop Productions (who Ron Weihs apprenticed with), following in the footsteps of such works as their play Ten Lost Years, or the 25th Street Theatre’s Paper Wheat. This form of script creation is one that has fallen out of style in the recent years, as it depends on an ongoing commitment from an ensemble of actors who must remain a part of each incarnation of the play in order for it to work successfully. I myself found it ironic that many of the cast were not even alive when this kind of theatre was at its height, and in that sense the play is both hip and contemporary, and yet is

Many jobs are represented in the play: Construction worker, bridge painter, factory worker, musician, and retail sales clerk are just some of the experiences we share with the ensemble. A real balance is created between the individual stories, some of which are quite tragic, with the real humor of everyday life in the workplace.

The cast of six (Paula Grove, Valeri Kay, Tanis MacArthur, Allan Merovitz, Gordon Odegaard, and Nea Reid), effortlessly portray at least 20 characters that are believable and compelling throughout. These are performances that are genuine, thoroughly professional and they certainly deserve a wider audience. Particular note should be made of the unusual mix of voices and vocal styles, which shouldn’t obviously work and yet somehow do within the context of the play; as well as the clever use of space and objects and video projected imagery in Judith Sandiford’s set and lighting.

In the end though, it is the songs themselves that you carry away with you leaving the theatre. It’s a much richer experience then the typical Broadway style musical revue in that all of the music is original, it and skillfully continues the experience of the workers, although now through the medium of melody and lyric.

As something that is not the usual fare offered on the local scene, You Are What You Do is a must-see. It is a meticulously constructed piece of theatre that asks some real questions of its audience, and you cannot help but be enriched after experiencing it. … [BRIAN MORTON]

Artword Theatre’s first show in Hamilton, fall 2008

First show in Artword’s new Hamilton home

October 15, 2008 Jeff Mahoney, The Hamilton Spectator

For those whose energies can’t be contained by just one creative activity, there’s the idea that the individual arts (painting, music, writing, etc.) make up a family. The potential of each is best fulfilled when it comes out of its separate room to interact with the others.

[Image: rehearsal at The Pearl of You Are What You Do, opening October 16, 2008.]

Theatre, film, opera, stage shows — collaborative forms of all kinds — appeal to the integrative impulse of the most ambitious in the arts.

Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford know it well. It is, in a way, a basis for their relationship. She’s a visual artist and set designer. He’s a playwright, director and producer.

Together they were living their vision — an alternative, multi-stream laboratory of theatre/art — in the old garment district of Toronto. On Portland Street. They ran plays, arts shows and some publishing projects (Artword magazine) out of a performance/studio space in a renovated factory — a 30-foot span with no pillars, with 16-foot ceilings, sprung dance floor, raked seats, a 70-foot long building.

“No one believed we could have such supportive landlords,” says Sandiford. “They respected how hard we worked.”

It was called Artword, and it lasted from 1993 to 2006, first at a 60-seat theatre at 81 Portland, then at the larger building [next door] at 75 Portland, which housed a 150-seat multipurpose space, a 60-seat studio theatre and a 1,500-square-foot art gallery.

They were highly thought of and staged many popular productions, both their own and the work of other groups to whom they rented space, such as the African Theatre Ensemble. They did Allan Merovitz’s If Cows Could Fly, Weihs’ Sur (based on Ursula K. Le Guin) and Cu’Fu, by Hamilton’s own Charly Chiarelli. Much more. Not to mention the numerous art exhibitions.

Then, in 2006, their landlords, helpful as they’d been, could no longer resist market pressures. They sold the building to a condo developer. The new owner gave them four months’ notice.

“We locked up the back doors of a 48-foot trailer and drove out into sunset with our theatre and art gallery in it,” says Weihs.

This weekend Artword kicks off its first season in Hamilton, at The Pearl Company, 16 Steven St. When Sandiford and Weihs went looking for a new home, they scoured the MLS listings of the GTA, but one day they literally turned around on the QEW, came to Hamilton and ended up putting an offer in on a building.

That offer didn’t go through, but instead they found a house on Prospect Street three times the size and half the price of anything they’d been looking at in Toronto.

And then they found Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne, who own and run The Pearl Company, another renovated factory being used for the family of the arts, this one in Hamilton. So, they decided to use that space.

“We thought we were unique,” says Weihs. “But here in Hamilton there’s a couple as crazy as we are.”

So the vision continues. Sandiford and Weihs have assembled an ensemble cast for the musical You Are What You Do. It’s a new play by Weihs, who has written many over the years, including The Beavers (an Aristophanes-style satire), The Wobbly (with George Luscombe) and Highball!, a musical about logging, which he toured through B.C. logging country in the ’80s. Sandiford, whose art draws on themes from physics and cosmology, has helped create an innovative set with graphics for the unique stage.

You Are What You Do is a theatrical collage of stories based on the lives of working people. It previews tomorrow, opens Friday and runs to Oct. 26, with shows Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. …

“We believe in a theatre that is full of fun and theatricality while it deals with things that matter.” says Weihs.

The approach, a tad Brechtian, is more horizontal and involving of the audience than conventional theatre.

Are Weihs and Sandiford part of the Toronto wave, attracted by affordability, which Hamiltonians have come almost coltishly to expect as our salvation? Well, there are Sky Gilbert, Ian Jarvis, others. Wave? Not yet. Maybe something between a smattering and an influx. But we’re glad to have them.

Ghost Ship, a true story about West African migrants, Sept 30, 2007

September 30, 2007. Artword Theatre’s Ghost Ship tells the story of the recent perilous migrations in small boats by West Africans attempting to reach Europe via the Canary Islands. The “ghost ship” of our title is a small boat discovered adrift off the coast of Barbados in April 2006. In the boat were 11 emaciated corpses. Who were they? Where did they come from? They were young men from Senegal who had set out for the Canary Islands, but ended up drifting over 4,000 kilometres across the Atlantic.

This incident brought world attention to the phenomenon of migrants from West Africa setting out to the Canary Islands in small boats, traditional fishing boats, canoes or pirogues, and the larger cayucos, not intended for long voyages across open ocean  These migration attempts were just beginning in 2004 and reached crisis proportions in 2006. The migration is extremely dangerous, and has resulted in great loss of life. Yet the young people in West Africa continue to choose to take the risks rather than remain at home.

The script of Ghost Ship is based on factual material, including first-hand accounts and forum discussions on Senegalese and other websites, and direct voices in news articles. The  criticized president of Senegal is Abdoulaye Wade. The mother who campaigns against the migrations is Yayi Bayam Diouf. One of the songs in our show “The promises you made” is our response to Senegalese rapper Didier Awadi’s song Sunugaal.

Most of the emigrants are young men (and some women and children) who have no economic prospects back home. Some are refugees from other parts of Africa displaced by civil instability. The collapse of the local fishing industry on the Senegalese coast has been a major factor. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 27,000 migrants journeyed to the Canary Islands by boat in 2006 alone. Untold numbers have perished at sea. A Spanish observer on the Canaries has called this phenomenon “one of the most cruel and important immigration movements of our time.”

Waleed Abdulhamid

The workshop production is Sunday September 30, 2007, 3:30 pm and 8 pm, at Trane Studio, 964 Bathurst St, Toronto.

Script by Judith Sandiford and Ronald Weihs,
Directed by Ronald Weihs,
Music direction and performance by Waleed Abdulhamid,
Choreography by Muoi Nene.
Performed by: Seifu Belachew, Muoi Nene, Alexandra Semakula, Stella Umeh,

Artword Cultural Projects acknowledges the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council for this development workshop of Ghost Ship.

Seifu Belachew

Artword has assembled a strong ensemble for Ghost Ship, most of whom have worked with Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford on previous projects:
Waleed Abdulhamid (music director/performer) is a noted Toronto musician of Sudanese background equally skilled in jazz and world music, was Music Director and performer for Market of Tales, a co-production by AfriCan Theatre Ensemble and Artword Theatre in 2005.
Seifu Belachew (Mamadou, a migrant from Senegal to Spain) is originally from Ethiopia, and performed in Market of Tales.

Muoi Nene

Muoi Nene (Diop, a former fisherman in Mbour, and Macky, a would-be migrant), originally from Kenya, has appeared in the ATE/Artword productions of Fate of a Cockroach and Market of Tales.


Alexandra Semakula

Alexandra Semakula (Mima, a mother and would-be migrant) is originally from Uganda, and performed in the ATE/Artword production of Market of Tales.


Stella Umeh

Stella Umeh (Yayi Bayam, a mother in Thiaroye, Senegal) is a former Olympic gymnast, who performed for over five years with Cirque de Soleil, and was most recently seen in Toronto in Pinteresque at Summerworks 2007. This is her first role with the Artword Theatre Ensemble.

Director Ronald Weihs comments: “Ghost Ship is the latest in a series of works over the years in which I have been exploring the interplay between the conventions of narrated story (epic voice) and theatre (dramatic voice). This mixing of conventions is particularly effective for material that is factual and issue-driven. The dramatic convention holds a mirror up to nature. The storytelling convention breaks through that mirror, engaging the audience directly, declaring “We want you to know this”. Interweaving the two allows great flexibility. Everything changes from one moment to another. Naturalism becomes one device among many. Ideas can be depicted, spoken, sung or danced. Essential to this approach is ensemble acting. The company tells a story together, helping each other to do so, interacting like a jazz band. I look for actors who also have skills in music, movement and dance.”