Fringe BYOV: Charly’s Piano, nine shows July 18-27, 2019

July 18 to 28, 2019: Artword Artbar, a Hamilton Fringe Festival BYOV, hosts Artword Theatre’s 60-minute version of Charly’s Piano, performed by Charly Chiarelli. The show is written by Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs, directed by Ronald Weihs, with songs by Charly Chiarelli.
Charly’s Piano tells the true tale of Charly as a young hippie looking for work in Toronto in 1972. He gets a job in a psychiatric hospital, and organizes a fundraising concert by patients and doctors to buy a piano.
Tickets: $12 Tickets:
Runs 60 mins. Showtimes: 18 Jul Thu: 9:00 pm, 19 Jul Fri: 7:00 pm,
20 Jul Sat: 9:00 pm, 21 Jul Sun: 7:00 pm, 23 Jul Tue: 9:00 pm, 24 Jul Wed: 7:00 pm,
25 Jul Thu: 9:00 pm, 26 Jul Fri: 7:00 pm, 27 Jul Sat: 9:00 pm.

Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs originally developed Charly’s Piano back in December 2017 as a two-act play. In 2019, the Fringe 60-minute time slot offered a challenging opportunity to develop a shorter version. They took out the Christmas carols and tightened up some of the songs. They cut out a few of the anecdotes about the patients that Charly worked with. And there we have it, a fine new version of the show. The projected image sequences are still there for all the songs:

Something About Toronto
Winter Time Blues
I Ponder
The Magic of Cats
Down and Dirty Blues
A Simple Minstrel’s Tune
Have a Good Time
When the Well Runs Dry
Pills they keep popping…
Something About Toronto

Fringe Press and Reviews  2019:

Charly’s Piano, Fringe advance article by Gary Smith, Hamilton Spectator, July 12, 2019

Hamilton favourite Charly Chiarelli brings back his wonderful remembrance of falling in love with music as a young hippie on the streets of Toronto. He takes us inside his complex world as he organizes a concert for patients and doctors in a psychiatric hospital. A warm, touching 60-minute show by Chiarelli and Ron Weihs that provokes laughter and more than a few tears.

Charly’s Piano 2019 review Raise The Hammer
July 25, 2019

By Marianne Daly

Charly’s Piano is the interesting, inspiring and funny true story about Charly Chiarelli’s time working in a psychiatric hospital in 1972. This version of the story is terrific, with direction and background guitar by Artword Artbar’s own Ronald Weihs and black-and-white photos of Toronto projected on the back of the stage.

Charly is an animated and expressive storyteller who plays a mean harmonica. This show features Charly acting out many of the people he met when he worked at the Clark Institute. The story is packed with Charly’s self-deprecating humour and his open-hearted acceptance of quirky characters, and conveys a good-natured feeling of “hey, we’re all in this together, trying to figure it out as best we can.”

It also has a healthy dose of “fake it till you make it” when Charly organizes a variety show fundraiser to buy a piano for some informal music therapy.

Charly’s story ends on a rather sad note, when Charly goes back to visit the hospital several years later. It is a powerful ending, but Yours truly – ever the optimist – hopes the future is brighter for music therapy in psychiatric programs. Two recent visits I made to the psychiatric departments at St. Joseph’s give me faith that there is reason to hope.

This is a show that can inspire mental health professionals – and advocates like myself – to see how important music therapy is. In the meantime, go see Charly’s Piano, for wonderful stories and music guaranteed to make you feel better!

Marianne Daly is a writer, storyteller and retired high school teacher.

Charlys Piano,  ViewMagazine 2019 online Fringe Reviews

By Arthur Bullock

Charly’s Piano is a charming true story of empathy and compassion, set in early-1970s Toronto. The protagonist and storyteller, Charly Chiarelli, recounts his time at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, working as a psychiatric assistant. Throughout the course of the story, Charly gets to know the staff and patients of the institute, forming close bonds with all of them. Each patient is treated like an individual, with the dignity and respect that they rightfully deserve. As a Fringe storyteller, Chiarelli is friendly and energetic, speaking to the audience as though he was having a warm conversation with them. Chiarelli also incorporates live music into his act: he will periodically sing a blues tune and play the harmonica, while Ronald Weihs accompanies him on the acoustic guitar. Charly’s Piano is not just a story: more than anything else, it is an invitation to step into someone else’s shoes. It sheds light on the lives of mental health patients just as much as it recounts Chiarelli’s own life, and it reminds us of the incredible potential for change that one person can have.


The Man in the Vault by Ronald Weihs, Fringe, July 19-28, 2018

July 19 to 28, 2018. Hamilton Fringe Festival. The Man in the Vault (an Artword Theatre production). Written and directed by Ronald Weihs. Produced and designed by Judith Sandiford. Performed by Mariam Bekhet, Jordan Campbell, Jason Thompson. 

A Russian spy defects with information about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. James Angleton, the CIA’s legendary head of counterintelligence, is convinced he is a disinformation agent sent by the KGB.

The Man in the Vault: Mariam Bekhet, Jordan Campbell,

The defector is kept in a concrete vault in a secret location while interrogators try to extract the truth from the man in the vault. Based on true events in the 1960s that resonate with today’s headlines.

Part of the Hamilton Fringe Theatre Festival. Running Time: 60 minutes. Tickets: $10 (Fringe Backer Button required)
Show Times: Thurs July 19 @ 9pm, Fri July 20 @ 4:30pm, Sat July 21 @ 7pm, Sun July 22 @ 8pm, Tues, July 24 @ 9pm, Wed July 25 @ 7pm, Thurs July 26 @ 9pm, Fri July 27 @ 5pm, Sat July 28 @ 6pm  (Final show)

The Man in the Vault: Jason Thompson as James Angleton

The Man in the Vault, written and directed by Ronald Weihs, is a true story about James Angleton, the legendary head of CIA counterintelligence, who described the spy business as “a wilderness of mirrors”. In 1963, a Russian spy defects with information about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. Angleton is convinced that he is a disinformation agent sent by the KGB. The defector is kept in a concrete vault in a secret location while interrogators try to extract the truth. Based on events that resonate today, when headlines are dominated by disinformation, collusion and Russian spycraft. 

PRESS RELEASE: For immediate release: July 6, 2018

Artword Theatre production: The Man in the Vault
written and directed by Ronald Weihs

Shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a Russian KGB officer defected to the CIA. His name was Yuri Nosenko, and he said he knew the answer to the most incendiary question of the time: was Oswald a Russian agent? Nosenko’s answer: no, he wasn’t.

James Angleton, the CIA’s legendary head of counterintelligence, was convinced that Nosenko was a disinformation agent sent by the KGB. Angleton was busy tearing the CIA apart looking for a mole, acting on information from another defector, Anatoli Golitsyn. He believed that Nosenko had been sent to discredit Golitsyn, with the Kennedy information as bait.

Nosenko was locked a concrete vault in a secret location for over three years, while interrogators tried to break his story. The Man in the Vault imagines a last-ditch attempt by Angleton to determine the truth.

Playwright Ronald Weihs became fascinated with this story about the famous CIA spyhunter, James Angleton. He began a major research effort, filling a large bookcase as he found himself spiraling deeper and deeper into the dark world of spies, disinformation and the assassination of President Kennedy. As complexities multiplied and theories and conspiracies proliferated, he found himself lost in the world that Angleton called “a wilderness of mirrors”. After many false starts on a script, he put it all away in a drawer. Anyway, he thought, that Russia/US spy stuff is all outdated.

Now suddenly, with Trump in the White House, it’s all back again: intelligence, counterintelligence, disinformation. With the encouragement of his partner Judith Sandiford, Ron found all his old notes and fragments and stitched them into a script. Last April, some actor friends helped with a staged reading at Artword Artbar. To his surprise, it hit home with actors and audiences! So he sat down and started rewriting. He trimmed the cast from five to three, and focused and tightened the narrative. And every day he watches MSNBC, marvelling how, in James Angleton’s phrase, “the past telescopes into the present”.

Artword Theatre is the creative vehicle of Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford. They built and operated a major theatre at Bathurst and King in Torontofor seven years, until the landlord sold the building to a condo developer. The pair moved to Hamilton in 2007, and in 2009 they bought asports bar just off James Street North and turned it into Artword Artbar.Since coming to Hamilton, Artword Theatre has produced 16 original works, including four BYOV productions, all acclaimed by reviewers: Trumpet Romance with Stuart Laughton (“an extraordinary experience, not to be missed”); Transformation, by Learie McNicolls (“a masterpiece of poetic theatre”); Once I Lived in the Box, choreographed by Learie McNicolls (“may also be the best thing you see at the Fringe this year”); Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy (“should be touring the country”).

Review: WhatsOn Jul 24, 2018 by Lori Littleton, Special to The Hamilton Spectator

The Man in the Vault at Artword Artbar

Last Fringe, Ronald Weihs staged a play about Langston Hughes, an American poet and social activist who was called to testify before U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. This year, he’s back with another historical exploration.

It’s the early 1960s and a Russian KGB officer has defected to the CIA. James Jesus Angleton — expertly played by Jason Thompson with poise and authority — is the legendary CIA head of counter-intelligence. He’s convinced Yuri Nosenko (Jordan Campbell) is lying and that Lee Harvey Oswald was a KGB officer.

Campbell’s Russian accent is spot on and he’s so convincing, we don’t doubt his denials for a second. Angleton sends Christine (the excellent Mariam Bekhet) to grill Nosenko toward the end of his three-year solitary stint in a concrete vault.

Five years ago, an audience might have watched this play and thought, well, isn’t that interesting? Today, it’s compelling. Weihs examines what is truth and what are facts and lies and we mentally halt when Angleton tells Christine that “it’s all part of a long-term plan — disinformation.”

With news stories abounding about Russian spies, indictments from Robert Mueller and Russian collusion and election meddling, you can’t help but wonder if history is repeating itself. Possibly in an effort to stay within a one-hour time frame, the action jumps quickly from a final interrogation scene to Nosenko appearing before a committee.

Rather than feel satisfied that the play’s wrapping up, you’ll want more.

The Man in the Vault review by Mark Fenton
Published July 23, 2018

Perhaps it’s because I was born six days after the Kennedy Assassination, but I have a voracious appetite for novels, journalism, movies, and plays about JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald. (Frames from the Zapruder film are frequently up on my desktop background.)

This is a necessary disclosure, as it might make “The Man in the Vault” more compelling to me than to the average Fringe-goer. I knew there were communist conspiracy theories around Oswald’s time in Russia, but to my shame I knew nothing of James Jesus Angleton and Yuri Nosenko. So I’m like a boy on Christmas morning who’s just gotten some new action figures to augment his tableau.

James Jesus Angleton, chief of CIA Counterintelligence (there’s a delightful sidebar in the production about how he got his middle name) sends a young woman in the intelligence agency to interrogate Yuri Nosenko, a Soviet defector.

As the play opens, Yuri has been held in solitary confinement for almost a year. The young woman is to pose as a disinterested psychologist examining Nosenko’s mental state so that he’ll let his guard down. “By indirections find directions out.”

Nosenko had a low-level intelligence job in the Soviet Union when Oswald was in Russia. Angleton believes that Nosenko can give information proving the Kennedy Assassination was a Soviet plot, and that Oswald was their agent.

Dramatically, the situation provides an effective distancing between Angleton and Nosenko. They never meet during their cold war stalemate. For Nosenko, the inability to confront his adversary amplifies the menace of unknowable persecutors.

For an increasingly inebriated Angleton, his physical distance from Nosenko is its own prison as Angleton struggles in a web of good information, concealed information, and willfully false information.

This complexity is countered by the bare simplicity of the staging, to the point that the projected images of Washington, Oswald, and newspaper clippings about the assassination feel redundant and diminish the claustrophobia and isolation of working on a classified case. But this is a small criticism for a play that had me on the edge of my seat, like an unproduced Twilight Zone episode scripted by a young John Le Carré.


The Decision by David Dawson, Hamilton Fringe, July 19-28, 2018

July 19 to 28, 2018. Hamilton Fringe Festival. The Decision, a play by David Laing Dawson.
Amsterdam, May 16, 1940: Two young officers in the Royal Netherlands Army meet secretly. Their orders are to report to Gestapo Headquarters the next morning. 

Directed by Ronald Weihs. Performed by Jordan Campbell and Jason Thompson.

David Dawson’s powerful drama, The Decision, is set in Holland on May 16, 1940, after the Nazis have occupied The Netherlands.

Jason Thompson as Victor

Jordan Campbell as Pieter

Two young Dutch army officers meet to decide whether to report to Nazi headquarters as ordered, or to resist. It is a life-and-death decision, but how do you know which is which? David Dawson based his play on real people in his wife’s family, who faced that decision on that date. If we are faced with such a decision today, how will we choose?

Produced by Marlaise Dawson. Gallery on the Bay and Artword Theatre. Design and lighting by Judith Sandiford.

Tickets: $12 Adults, $5 Children. (Fringe Backer Button required),  Thurs July 19 @ 7 pm, Fri July 20 @ 7 pm, Sat July 21 @ 9 pm, Sun July 22 @ 6 pm, Tues July 24 @ 7 pm, Wed July 25 @ 5 pm, Thur July 26 @ 7 pm, Fri July 27 @ 7 pm, Sat July 28 @ 4 pm

Statement by David Laing Dawson, July 2018

For many years I knew of the story of Pieter, one day to become Marlaise’s father after the war, and Victor, one day to become Marlaise’s uncle, as two young men getting together one evening after the Dutch surrendered, to decide to report to German headquarters as ordered, or to refuse and resist. I imagined them meeting on a barge in an Amsterdam canal beneath an ominous sky in a now deathly quiet city, though in reality it was probably a kitchen in a small house near Nijmegan.

I know the outcome of that meeting, as do the history books and the thorough German records. And from the start that meeting begged to be turned into a play, re-imagined as a play. Imagine the issues they must have faced that night: small and personal, historical and geopolitical, the very nature and meaning of human behaviour.

However, that play would not written by me, for my life has never included any moment remotely like that. In fact, my generation of Canadians has lived within the longest period of peace and prosperity the world has ever known.

But then Donald Trump was elected. Our long period of peace and increasing inclusion, our widening of community to include the entire planet, began to falter.

And I sat down to write “The Decision”.

The Decision, review by Mark Fenton, published July 20, 2018, in Raise the Hammer.

The premise is a simple one. Two men, Pieter and Victor, living in Nazi-occupied Holland, are faced with a choice. They can report to the headquarters of the new regime and fight for Hitler, or they can join the resistance.

Pieter leans towards Hitler, and Victor towards the resistance. Pieter is an idealist who believes the leaders can’t be as bad as their worst rhetoric. His friend Victor is a cynic who expects the worst of leaders.

The play is fueled by the consumption of Dutch Beer, which reminds us a) that each man loves his country and would have been much happier if the Germans hadn’t shown up, and b) that alcohol blurs the line between polemic and emotion.

A dialectic drama in which two men in a room argue politics and ethics requires actors who can increase the tension slowly and steadily, and maintain our visual interest with nuanced physicality. Campbell and Thomson are excellent in demonstrating how important our choices are to immediate problems and, as we’ll learn, as an example to future generations.

I want to avoid spoilers, but I’ll just say there’s a mid-performance twist that’s stunning in its simplicity and effectiveness.

David Dawson based his play on the histories of his father-in-law and his father-in-law’s friend. The story is clearly personal for Dawson. But I don’t think he means us to condemn either man. I think he means us to admire the struggle of each man to live by his individual convictions.

Our collective attitude to Hitler’s Germany has been simplified by hindsight. The larger injustices, as the play makes emphatically clear, are still with us.


Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, Fringe 2017 July 20-29

July 20 to 29, 2017. Artword Theatre participates in the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Theatre Festival with a timely and sensitive piece of documentary theatre, Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, written and directed by Ronald Weihs.
Dancer-choreographer-actor Learie Mc Nicolls plays the role of Langston Hughes and character actor Howard Jerome performs as The Interrogator.

Is poetry subversive? U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy thought so. On March 24, 1953, Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, was summoned before the Senate Committee on Investigations. Did his poems contain communist ideas? In reply, Langston Hughes tells about his personal encounters with racism in America. The script is based on the actual transcript of his testimony, interwoven with the controversial poems, and incorporating dance, music and powerful images of the era.
Running time: 60 minutes. Tickets: $10 + one-time Fringe button:
Showtimes: Thu July 20: 6:30pm, Fri July 21: 9:00pm, Sat July 22: 9:00pm, Sun July 23: 8:30pm, Tue July 25: 9:00pm, Wed July 26: 9:00pm, Thu July 27: 9:00pm, Fri July 28: 8:30pm, Sat July 29: 8:30pm

[The poems by Langston Hughes are used by permission granted by Harold Ober Associates Incorporated, as agents for the Estate of Langston Hughes.]


at the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Festival

BRIAN MORTON, Contributor, July 28, 2017

Ron Weihs’ play, ‘Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy,’ now gets a full production as part of the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Festival. This two man play digs deeply into a very dark period of American History that remains shameful to us today, although with the polarization and division in the United States in the era of Donald Trump, its relevancy is clear.

The script itself is based upon actual testimony given when Harlem poet Langston Hughes was called to testify before Congress during the Communist ‘witch hunts’ of the early 1950s.

Back then, anyone who had ties to socialism, communism or even just leftist sympathies were blacklisted, vilified and forced to recant their views. Many of the artists and writers who were called to testify, even some of those who attended and just used their constitutional right to plead according to the Fifth Amendment, were unable to find work in their fields afterwards; many committed suicide, moved abroad or even, worst of all, they named others in order to be exonerated. Uncooperative witnesses were imprisoned. Refusing to testify – to name names of others – created heroes such as the ‘Hollywood Ten’ which included Dalton Trumbo. We revere their courage to this day, as evidenced by the number of films, plays and books that remind us their story.

This is the era in which the play lives.

From the opening moments, tidying up his desk and organizing his thoughts for the session ahead, Howard Jerome as Senator Joe McCarthy drives this production with his articulate and persistent attacks. His voice has a wonderfully raspy quality to it, that got under your skin.

Called to testify is poet Langston Hughes (in this production played by the mercurial Learie McNicolls). He responds to McCarthy’s questioning by relating his experiences grown up in Missouri, and by sharing his poetry, he gives a basic lesson in creative writing and attempts to explain, correctly, that the narrative voice in a poem may not necessarily be the author’s own.

It is often hard to stage poetry. This production presents eighteen of Hughes poems as part of the story; they are presented as dance pieces, and slipped seamlessly into the dialogue of both actors. “A poem is not testimony” Hughes asserts, perhaps not, but it can convey truth and meaning.

We might wax nostalgic for a prosecutor who at least tries to establish actual facts in a legal case; in this our era of Trump’s 140 word ‘covfefe’ tweets, truth can be hard to find. But the agenda here is much the same, to silence those who do not subscribe to the politics of bigotry and hatred of the ‘other’.

An additional character is created in this production, by the use of very cleverly chosen period photographs. In the exact same way that carefully chosen music works to underscore a scene, the images presented behind the onstage action become a powerful commentary. They evoke the time, the place, and the people brilliantly.

A fine play, well staged, with a powerful message that is so important in our ‘here and now.’ What more could one ask for? A cool drink perhaps. This venue is licensed and you can enjoy a beer, or a glass of wine, while you watch.

‘Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy’ (Artword Theatre, Hamilton)
Writer/Director: Ronald Weihs, Cast: Learie McNicolls and Howard Jerome

‘Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy’ should be touring the country

Doreen Nicoll, July 30, 2017

There’s no doubt about it, history is cyclical. Those well versed in history see the proverbial writing on the wall. Unfortunately, those who choose to remain ignorant, or perhaps worse, those who believe they are untouchable, can set the world on a path that is well worn, all too familiar, and often dangerous.

July 29th, the curtain went down for the final time on the Hamilton Fringe production Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy: Is Poetry Subversive? Set at the height of McCarthyism when, as director Ronald Weihs writes in his director’s statement, “There was a massive effort underway in the United State to communicate a crude vision of ‘The American Way,’ and to brand ideas ‘Un-American.’ People were taught to be frightened of their own thoughts, to repress them or keep them hidden.”

During the 1920’s and 30’s, Harlem became a beacon of hope for freedom of expression to African American scholars and artists. This newfound voice was demanding civil liberties and political rights. Hughes was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance which gave birth to jazz poetry. It was this poetry that would make Hughes a person of interest.

On March 24, 1953 James Mercer Langston Hughes, African American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist was called before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. And so the play begins.

Republican Senator Everett Dirksen and attorney Roy Cohn originally interrogated Hughes, but Weihs successfully embodies the men in one domineering character. The interrogator, clearly Hughes’s intellectual inferior, tries unsuccessfully to get Hughes to admit his poems contain subversive political messages.

Hughes never denies his writing has political references, but maintains those references “would mean many things to different people.”

Instead, Hughes takes every opportunity to school his interrogator on the true meaning of free speech — a lesson the current U.S. administration desperately needs to hear.

Actor, singer, writer, director producer and activist, Howard Jerome was the embodiment of the hostile, manipulative interrogator berating Hughes throughout the hour long questioning. Learie McNicolls, dancer, choreographer and spoken word artist, elevated Hughes to the intellectual, artistic, and humanitarian stature he deserved.

“…a truly enchanting hour showcasing some of Hughes’ moving, political, and still frighteningly relevant poetry.”


This Fringe show was a real gem and a pleasant surprise. Writer/Director Ronald Weihs takes us back to 1953 when Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes was summoned by infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy to speak to the Senate Committee on Investigations. Combining projected pictures from the era, jazz music, movement and two amazing actors Weihs transports his audience into both a frightening and inspiring time and place. A time and place that reminds us of the fragility of our democracies as we still so easily allow ideological demagogues to take away our collective powers.

What makes this production really sing is when Learie Mc Nicolls brings to life the words of Langston Hughes. More than once the audience would burst into spontaneous applause at the end of one his powerful recitations. Not only did his voice bounce off the walls, but his feet and body were bouncing and moving all over the stage. Mc Nicolls was utterly captivating to experience and witness in this fully realized performance. The counter point to his poignant energy was the brittle intensity that Howard Jerome brought to his role as the nefarious McCarthy.

Seeing how beautifully Weihs brought together his overall vision there was one oversight that kept bringing me out of the trance I was being put under. Neither Mc Nicolls nor Jerome look or sound anything like the real life people they portrayed on stage, but Mc Nicolls was magnificently dressed with trim, polish, spit and shine while Jerome had an ill-fitting suit, frumpy pants, grey beard, pony tail and running shoes on. I just wished that Jerome’s costume and overall look better expressed the evil, uptight, controlling, power hungry, repressed character he was portraying. He looked more like an eccentric hippy professor not the man who coined the term “McCarthyism”. Nevertheless a minor detail in what was a truly enchanting hour showcasing some of Hughes’ moving, political, and still frighteningly relevant poetry.


“top-notch actors and a unique, artful structure”

Jul 24, 2017, by Lori Littleton,  Hamilton Spectator

Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy
Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne St. — July 25-27 at 9 p.m., and July 28-29 at 8:30 p.m.

Writer/ director Ronald Weihs has assembled an acting powerhouse for this 60-minute drama. Dora Award-winner Learie McNicolls is Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, and Howard Jerome is Joe McCarthy, a U.S. Senator known for his pursuit of anyone affiliated with Communism in the 1950s. The play is based on actual transcripts of Hughes’ testimony before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in March 1953. But this isn’t a courtroom drama and there’s no thundering climax. Instead, the play features McCarthy asking Hughes questions about his poetry. Seated, Hughes answers but then rises to narrate a poem. A skilled dancer, McNicolls artfully adds to his delivery of these poems, which punctuate issues such as workers’ rights, racism, inequality and religion. Weihs also tackles more philosophical topics such as whether a writer’s views be separated from his work.

“Let America be America again,” Hughes urges. He also admits, “There has never been equality or freedom for me.”

Weihs also uses music and projects photographs of the actual court proceedings plus other images of the era on a screen behind Hughes’ courtroom desk to remind the audience of the societal tensions of the 1950s. Of course, looking at a sign that reads, “We want white tenants in our white community,” forces audience members to consider our current climate on racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Despite top-notch actors and a unique, artful structure, this production’s hindered by its overly ambitious script, which, at times, seems more intent on raising issues than offering any attempts at resolution.


DANCE: Once I Lived in the Box, Fringe, July 19-23, 2016

Artword Theatre presents Once I Lived in the Box, a dance work by Learie Mc Nicolls, for the 2016 Hamilton Fringe Festival. Dancer and choreographer Learie Mc Nicolls has created a full-length dance piece about vulnerability and trust.
The piece is danced by Angela Del Franco, Sharon Harvey, Tanis Macarthur, Jamila Bello and Learie Mc Nicolls, in a sequence of trios, duets and solos that reveal different aspects of isolation and connection. Judith Sandiford is producer and lighting designer.
SIX SHOWS: Tues- Fri July 19-22, 2016, at 9:00 pm; Sat July 23 at 6:00 & 9:00 pm. 60 minutes. Tickets $10, or

Once I Lived in the Box: Sharon Harvey, Angela Del Franco, Tanis Macarthur, Learie Mc Nicolls

Fringe 2016 Review: Once I Lived in the Box,
by Amos Crawley
“It may be a warning. It may also be the best thing you see at the Fringe this year.”

July 20, 2016. Raise the Hammer

“Once I Lived In The Box is a dire warning. It’s a tired and nearly, nearly defeated voice crying out in the middle of a windy, terrifying night. It is by turns haunting, sensual, humorous, distant and visceral. Like the Otis Redding version of A Change Is Gonna Come that scores a marvelous solo, it’s a show that never once apologizes for the pain of being alive.

Once I Lived in the Box, Jamila Bello, Learie Mc Nicolls

It is a shared experience in that way – it’s us who are being warned: STOP! We hold on to our faked generosity, our small ownerships, our secret hate for dear life as if we ourselves are not part of a continuum-as if we do not all break the same way.

The show begins with the razor edge feeling of a situation that can’t possibly end well. Then quickly we are in the hustle and bustle of a life where life is that which gets swept away-hidden.

The show moves for the most part with the undeniable pulse of heartbreak. We are perhaps doomed and our inner turmoil is a result of the lack of faith we put in one another, of a true generosity of spirit. That’s the price we all gotta pay. Isn’t it a pity?

Once I Lived in the Box, Angela Del Franco

Mc Nicolls and his gifted, dedicated performers unselfishly make the political personal so that at the turn of a phrase or a fade in the music (the evening is accompanied by some of the most exquisite music of the 20th century) we have gone from the world at large to the most intimate trials and tribulations of a love affair.

It may be a warning, but it is not a hopeless warning. There is always joy available. We’re gonna end up in a box anyhow — why live in one too?

It may be a warning. It may also be the best thing you see at the Fringe this year.

Amos Crawley is an actor, director and acting instructor who lives in East Hamilton with his wife, actor and director Cadence Allen, and their young son.”

Once I Lived in the Box, Sharon Harvey

Once I Lived in the Box Review in View Magazine July 21 2016
by Heather Baer

Visceral, raw strength are words which came to mind while watching Once I Lived in the Box, a full-length dance work passionately and creatively written and performed by awarding-winning choreographer Learie Mc Nicolls. Joining him are four beautiful women (Jamila Bello, Angela Del Franco, Sharon Harvey, and Tanis Macarthur) equally talented in their own right and each having a background in various movement forms from hip-hop to yoga and everything in between.

Once I Lived in the Box was inspired by a 10-page poem of the same name written by Mc Nicolls (“…because I have a lot to say”, quips Mc Nicolls when asked at a Q&A session after opening night) and reveals issues of vulnerability and trust as show through a series of solos, duets and quartets interwoven around, in, on and through movable pieces of “the box”.

The passion for and commitment to the piece and to their craft was expressed by the artists in every move from the fluid cadence of limbs to the exact placement of fingers as well as tell-tale glances and nods sometimes working in harmony and other times in opposition. Come and enjoy this unique exposition. The artistry continues for the rest of the weekend at Artword Artbar.

REVIEW of the February 2016 presentation: “Learie Mc Nicolls’ newest creation, Once I Lived in the Box, at Artword Artbar [Feb 3, 4 and 5, 2016], was a powerful, yet intimate, piece of choreography… This piece touched the heart. I hope it will be remounted; it deserves a longer run and a larger audience.” Ellen Jaffe, Ontario Arts Review


Transformation, Learie Mc Nicolls, Fringe, July 16-25, 2015

July 16 to 25, 2015. Artword Theatre presents Transformation: A Journey of the Soul’s Healing by Learie Mc Nicolls, remounted for the 2015 Hamilton Fringe Festival.
Learie Mc Nicolls confronts the demons of poverty, violence and fear in his powerful new work, Transformation: a Journey of the Soul’s Healing. An Artword Theatre production, directed by Ronald Weihs, Transformation combines dance, spoken word, soundscape and visual images, to present one man’s struggle to come to terms with his troubled Trinidad childhood and redeem the forgotten child inside him. The live musical soundscape is by Dale Morningstar, and live visuals by Judith Sandiford.

Venue: Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne St., a Bring-Your-Own-Venue.
Running time: 60 minutes. Eight performances, showtimes:
Thursday July 16 at 9 pm; Friday July 17 at 9 pm;
Saturday July 18 at 9 pm; Sunday July 19 at 8 pm;
Wednesday July 22 at 9 pm; Thursday July 23 at 8 pm;
Friday July 24 at 9 pm; Saturday July 25 at 9 pm  (Final Show)
Tickets $10 at door or online at:
plus a one-time purchase of a Fringe Button ($5), good for all Fringe shows.

Learie Mc Nicolls grew up in Moruga Trinidad.

Learie Mc Nicolls has been a key figure in the contemporary dance scene in Toronto since the 1980s. He has danced with Toronto Dance Theatre, Desrosiers Dance Theatre, Dancemakers, the National Ballet of Cuba, and his own company, Mythmakers. As a solo dancer, he has been exploring the combination of dance with spoken word, to create a powerful new form of theatrical presentation. His Toronto production, Armour, took two Dora awards for Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Performance. He recently moved to Hamilton, where he is devoting himself to helping build the contemporary dance scene here. Recent projects include Resurrection at the Pearl Company in 2014, and an ongoing series of showcase dance productions at Artword Artbar called Big Dance Little Stage, featuring dancers from Hamilton and Toronto.

Review by Robin Pittis of Transformation in View Magazine July 23 2015

Transformation: An avant-garde dancer teams up with a musician and visual artist to create this challenging masterpiece of poetic theatre. Learie Mc Nicolls is an accomplished and award-winning modern dancer, and he draws on richly personal material of growing up in Trinidad for his poems. Themes of innocence, violence, and faith swirl between Judith Sandiford’s imagery, Dale Morningstar’s creative soundscape, Mc Nicolls’ lithe and free movement, and his vocal commitment to the text. This is a feat of mature creative artistry connoisseurs won’t want to miss. [R.P.]

Peter Malysewich: “…the premier performance of this year’s Fringe.” Transformation by Learie Mc Nicolls

The performance was totally awesome. As a Learie fan, I came prepared to enjoy it and was rewarded with even more than I expected. Held my attention from right from the beginning. But I have to give a shout out to Dale Morningstar who at times was so intense he seem to be Learie’s alter ego, with his masterful timing, that movement and sound became one. A terrific venue, a terrific beer, and a fusion of artists for the premier performance of this year’s Fringe. July 23, 2015, Peter Malysewich, audience member, posting on FB,

Gary Smith: “..Theatre that pricks the social conscience, stirs the imagination and releases thought. Go get transformed.”

For goodness sake, go see Learie Mc Nicolls’ dance drama “Transformation.” This piece of theatre-cum-performance art is a highly polished, professional work that finds inspiration in McNicolls’ narrative and Ron Weihs’ inspired direction. Add Judith Sandiford’s powerful visuals with their icy tinge of realism and you have a work of art.
McNicolls moves with easy grace offering a seemingly improvised (it’s not of course) banter that gives the work energy and rhythm. Accompaniment by musician Dale Morningstar on drums, keyboard, whistle and cymbals is always perfectly in tune with what’s going on.
“Transformation” reminded me of heady nights in Greenwich Village’s once famous Café Bizarre where, during the 1960s, art was deliriously performed for audiences who savoured every moment.
This is theatre that pricks the social conscience, stirs the imagination and releases thought. Go get transformed. Performed at Artword Artbar 15 Colbourne St.
Gary Smith in The Hamilton Spectator, July 16, 2015. Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 35 years. He saw these Fringe shows in previews.

Review: Transformation: A Journey of the Soul’s Healing

By Dawn Cattapan, published July 17, 2015 in Raise The Hammer

Transformation: A Journey of the Soul’s Healing is a multi-disciplinary art piece that encompasses dance, spoken word, live music and image projections. Although initially conceived during 2014 performances, Transformation was first presented earlier this year and incorporates three of Mc Nicolls’ poems in order to bring three distinct characters to life.

Although these characters have other interactions, Learie is able to portray every single character with ease, using his body and voice alone to capture the essence of each; from a small child passing by on a beach to a preacher as he comes to terms with a troubled childhood.

In this sense, the story itself is epic; intense emotions and opinions of family, poverty, war, love, fear, sacrifice and faith are carefully explored as the character gracefully transforms and weaves their way into and out of the changes in their life. Through it all, they continue walking forward, to face each sunrise, and the promise of a new day with unreserved enthusiasm for the promise it may hold.

Mc Nicolls’ strong mastery of dance performance and movement is especially apparent as each transformation takes place with ease and grace that reflect his professional training.

No space or moment is wasted throughout the performance, as Artword Artbar is utilized perfectly in its entirety to capture each transformation, both in music, imagery and movement.

Mc Nicolls and his live collaborators have carefully and consciously thought out each moment, ensuring that they contribute to a powerful and meaningful performance as the music and images move the story forward as seamlessly as its main character.

Although many may feel that contemporary dance is an art form not for them, Learie Mc Nicolls is an apt tour guide for those looking to learn more about it as he conveys his story. This type of performance is reason enough to be excited about the future of the dance and art community in Hamilton.