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, artword@artword.net,

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, www.artword.net/artbar.

 

1812: The Songbook, Oct 18-20, 2012

what_the_folk_1812TheSongbook_mini_legalOctober 18-20, 2012. Artword Theatre presents 1812: The Songbook, a rollicking sing-along in music hall style (Artword @The Lyric) . Hamilton’s popular folk ensemble What the Folk (Terry Ball, Geoff Ball, Carolyn Reid, Caroline Olsen, and drummer Eric Hanenberg) sing songs about the War of 1812, and play a variety of instruments. The audience is invited to join in. Yes, there will be songbooks, with lyrics of the period songs and anecdotes about the war, and in cabaret style, beverages available to warm up the throat.
Researched, assembled and scripted by Judith Sandiford and Ronald Weihs. Produced by Artword Theatre.
Music arrangements by What the Folk.

Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, (905) 527-6135. Thurs-Sat at 8 pm Thurs: $19 regular, $16 seniors/students, Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students/seniors.
Ticket (905) 527-6135 or http://tickets.lyrichamilton.com/

What The Folk? are a multi-talented group of seven singers/instrumentalists. They play a range of folk-based and classical music, ranging from instrumental celtic pieces to a capella songs with full-blown four-or-more-part harmonies. They play traditional tunes, songs of war, and covers of more recent artists like Stan Rogers and Great Big Sea. Who are “What The Folk?”: Geoff Ball guitar, cello, vocals; Terry Ball vocals, violin, guitar, viola; Caroline Olsen vocals, violin, viola; Carolyn Reid vocals, flute. They are joined by Eric Hanenberg for some military drumming.

Battle of Queenston Heights

Upon the heights at Queenston, one dark October day,
Invading foes were marshalled in battle’s dread array ;
Brave Brock looked up the rugged steep, and planned a bold attack,
“No foreign flag shall float,” said he,
“Above the Union Jack ! ”

His loyal-hearted soldiers were ready, every one,
Their foes were thrice their number but duty must be done.
They started up the fire-swept hill with loud resounding cheers,
While Brock’s inspiring voice rang out
“Push on York Volunteers ! ”

But soon a fatal bullet pierced through his manly breast,
And loving friends, to help him, around the hero pressed ;
“Push on,” he said, “do not mind me,” and ere the setting sun,
Canadians held the Queenston Heights,
The victory was won.

Each true Canadian patriot laments the death of Brock.
Our country told its sorrow in monumental rock ;
And if a foe should e’er invade our land in future years,
His dying words will guide us still
“Push on brave volunteers ! “

Artword Theatre Announces 2012-13 Season at the new Lyric Tbeatre

Artword Theatre Announces 2012-13 Season at the new Lyric Tbeatre

Artword Theatre is back in action in Hamilton, presenting a series of four productions at the new Lyric Theatre on King Street at Locke.

The Artword team, Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford, ran a successful theatre facility in Toronto for twelve years before coming to Hamilton in 2008. Artword Theatre produced four original plays at the Pearl Company in 2008-09. Then 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.


#1: Artword’s season kicks off October 18 to 20, 2012 with 1812 – The Songbook, a rollicking sing-along in music hall style. Hamilton’s popular folk ensemble What the Folk (Terry Ball, Geoff Ball, Carolyn Reid, Caroline Olsen and drummer Eric Hanenberg) sing songs about the War of 1812, and the audience is invited to join in. Illustrated songbooks with the lyrics, and interesting anecdotes about the war, are passed out before every show. Judith Sandiford’s dedicated research unearthed a treasure-trove of rousing songs from the period, assembled and scripted by Sandiford and Ronald Weihs.  Music arrangements are by What the Folk. The show is in cabaret format, with beverages available to loosen up the throat.

Thursday to Saturday at 8 pm, October 18 to 20, 2012
Thurs: $19 regular, $16 seniors and students
Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students and seniors
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.


#2 From November 29 – December 8, Artword presents James Street, a light-hearted look at the history of Hamilton. Written and directed by Ronald Weihs, with music by Mark McNeil, James Street features Charly Chiarelli – whose stories about growing up Sicilian in Hamilton introduced the North End to the world. Charly plays a modern Hamiltonian who mysteriously encounters a legendary figure from Hamilton’s early days – Paoli Brown, town crier and one of the leaders of Hamilton’s African-Canadian community.  Together they witness a headlong and hilarious dash through Hamilton’s history as sketched out by an ensemble of actors. Mark McNeil, a well-known journalist around town, is also a talented songwriter and master of multiple guitar styles. He plays an ever-present street musician, who is joined by other members of the company for different musical numbers. The design, by Judith Sandiford, features a street stretching the length of the theatre, and a tumultuous streetcar ride.

Thursday to Saturday, 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 and students
Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students and seniors
Preview: Wednesday, Nov 28 at 8 pm, all tickets $10


#3. January 30 to February 3, 2013. If Cows Could Fly, Allan Merovitz’s musical play about growing up Jewish in Smith’s Falls,  is a perennial Artword favorite. Allan is known internationally as an interpreter of Klezmer and Yiddish songs, and If Cows Could Fly is full of that infectious music. Directed and developed by Ronald Weihs, Cows has seen several Toronto productions, at Artword Theatre and the Ashkenaz Festival at Harbourfront. The production features an live Klezmer Ensemble directed by Frank Rackow. An Artword production in 2008, originating in Hamilton, had a highly successful run in Ottawa, 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”.

Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm, Jan 30 – Feb 2, 2013, Sunday matinee Feb 3 at 2 pm, 2013.
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.
Wed, Thurs & Sun: $19 regular, $16 seniors and students
Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students and seniors


#4. Artword’s spring offering is a revival of Tobacco Troubadour, May 2 – 11, a coming-of-age musical based on the songs of J.P. (Paul) Riemens, written and directed by Ronald Weihs. Paul grew up as a “bunkhouse brat” in the tobacco fields of Ontario. Shortly after Ron and Judith arrived in Hamilton, they heard J.P. Riemens and the Barflies play in concert. Struck by the rich storytelling quality of the songs, Ron approached Paul that very night, and Tobacco Troubadour was born. The play begins with J.P. and the Barflies playing a concert, when suddenly actors emerge and a tender love story starts to unfold, weaving in and out with the songs that inspired the play.  The original production in April 2009 was called “truly great” by View Magazine, with “memorable songs, compelling performances and characters that we care about”.  The production was taken to Delhi, in the heart of the Tobacco region, in July, 2009, to packed houses.

Thursday to Saturday at 8 pm, May 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 2013
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.
Thurs: $19 regular, $16 seniors and students
Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students and seniors


Seasons tickets are available at $68 for all four plays, or $49 for any three plays. Call Artword Theatre at 905-543-8512 for details.

For more information, contact Judith Sandiford, artword@artword.net,
905-543-8512, cell: 905-912-9083

Artword Theatre
Artistic Director: Ronald Weihs
Managing Director: Judith Sandiford

artword@artword.net, www.artword.net, 905-543-8512, cell: 905-912-9083
Artword Theatre also runs Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne Street Hamilton, www.artword.net/artbar.