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VANCOUVER COLLECTIVE HOUSING DOCUMENTARY RELEASED THIS MONTH

collectivehousing_coverLast fall, I wrote a story about a locally filmed documentary called Better Together, which looks at collective living as a solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

As most of us are aware, housing in Vancouver is not easy to come by – unless you’ve got cash to burn, don’t mind living in less-than-ideal rentals, or have all the time in the world to spend hunting down an available apartment. And if you have a pet? Good luck.

That’s where collective living comes in. Collective living is a return to community living, where people choose to live in a family setting and commit to spending quality time together. It’s not just your average roommate situation.

The documentary was pitched by local video journalist Jen Muranetz as an introduction to collective living and how it might be a viable alternative for the many folks in Vancouver searching for a home. The documentary was entered into the Storyhive competition and ended up being one of 30 finalists selected to receive a $10,000 Storyhive grant.

The documentary was released earlier this month and you can watch it below. Congrats to Jen and everyone else attached to the project!

You can read my original story about co-housing here and learn more about Jen’s documentary here.

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Vancouver collective housing documentary wins Storyhive grant

It’s always nice to hear updates from people I’ve written stories about and to learn that things are going well.

I Interviewed Jen Muranetz last month about collective living. She’s a video journalist and had pitched a short documentary on collective housing to the Storyhive competition. She’s hoping the documentary will explain what co-housing is and how it might be a viable solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

Those who are skeptical would do well to hear her out. After spending a couple of hours interviewing Jen and her housemates at their home – affectionately called the Lounge – I was starting to think maybe I’d be ready to move in too. Even if it’s not for you, it’s a very interesting lifestyle and one that was fascinating to learn about.

Anyway. I received an email from Jen today, letting me know her project, titled Better Together, was one of 30 finalists who had been selected to receive a $10,000 Storyhive grant. Congratulations and I look forward to checking out the documentary when it’s completed.

You can read my original story about co-housing here and learn more about Jen’s documentary here.

A lesson in appreciating life

On Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT and opened fire on innocent teachers and children.

Like everyone else, I watched with horror as details about the shooting began surfacing. I felt like I was going to throw up just trying to imagine what these families’ lives would be like. Then offshoot conversations began stemming from the main story.

Spiralling conversations

Journalism ethics were called into question as some media outlets began interviewing surviving children on air. Commentators called on politicians to re-examine the American “right to bear arms” and on President Barack Obama to take action. Health advocates criticized the ease of access with which an individual can purchase a firearm but not receive mental health care.

There were a lot of thoughts and emotions flying around online, in newspapers, and on television – but all I could think of was something I had seen tweeted by Chris Jones, a writer for Esquire and a columnist for ESPN.

Chris Jones, writer for Esquire and columnist for ESPN tweeted this on Friday, following the shooting in Newtown, CT.

Chris Jones, writer for Esquire and columnist for ESPN tweeted this on Friday, following the shooting in Newtown, CT.

I couldn’t figure out why this stuck with me. As a journalist, you’d think I’d be more concerned with finding out confirmed details and what the story really was.

But the story isn’t about what happened – the story is about what won’t happen.

From the perspective of children

I had considered social work and teaching before I pursued journalism full-time. When you’re around children, your perspective on everything changes. You stop looking at the world from your own eyes and you begin to understand how it looks from the perspective of someone who still believes in, well… everything.

Children have a curious way of looking at the world, at embracing the magic that still surrounds us everyday. Some people don’t give kids enough credit – they’re much wiser than their years would have you believe, and more creative than you might think possible. To kids, the entire world truly is a playground and everything is still a possibility.

Yesterday’s story isn’t about what happened in Newtown. The story is about what won’t happen.

Non-existent futures

The 20 children who had their lives traumatically cut short won’t even finish elementary school. They won’t conduct any awkward fundraisers where their parents do majority of the fundraising. No field trips, no bake sales.

No mini-graduation as they make the transition to high school. No AP Calculus, no detention after school, no prom and no graduation gown. No university applications, no scholarships, no first apartment in residence.

No first love, no meeting the parents. They won’t get down on one knee to ask their high-school sweetheart to marry them. They won’t say yes ecstatically. They won’t spend forever trying to figure out the seating plans at their wedding.

They won’t feel the knot in their stomach on the first day of a new job – their first real job after graduating from university. No promotion, no first big assignment at work. No performance reviews at work.

These kids won’t even make it to Christmas this year. Their parents are now going home to clear out their Christmas-present hiding spot. The children whose names are written on the gift tags are no longer around.

Sympathy

It pains my heart to think of everything that is happening to these families right now – but even more so to think of all the things that won’t be happening to them. It is an unimaginable pain and grief these parents will feel for a long time, if not forever, knowing they won’t see their child graduate, work, get married, become parents themselves.

I’m not yet a parent but as a human being, I still hurt. My heart aches when I think about all the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to see in my young life, things that these 20 kids will never understand. Then when I think of all the times I’ve complained about anything, any major challenge I’ve come across – fuck, even the small challenges I’ve come across – that pain turns to guilt.

Learning to live with appreciation

While gun laws and health care access might take some time to change, there are a few things we can do now to make sure these 20 children aren’t forgotten. We can’t bring them back but at the very least, we desperately need to learn from this horrific incident and treat it as a wake-up call.

Let this be a lesson in being better people, in taking better care of each other. Make sure we hug our parents a little tighter every time we do get to see them. Walk a little slower and breathe a little deeper. Drive more carefully along the scenic route. Pay more attention to the ones we love. Let this be the last time you ever feel ungrateful for anything. Stop complaining about the petty shit and start living our lives with appreciation.

Above all, keep playing, keep believing, keep loving, and keep trusting – the way that kids do.

—–

NEWTOWN SHOOTING | THE VICTIMS

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6
Rachel Davino, 29; Teacher
Dawn Hochsprung, 47; School principal
Nancy Lanza, 52; Mother of gunman
Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Teacher
Lauren Rousseau, 30; Teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56; School psychologist
Victoria Soto, 27; Teacher

(Victims’ names sourced from The New York Times, www.nytimes.com.)

Featured photo courtesy of Getty Commons.

HBO’s Girls: The Voice of My Generation

“I’m like Tinkerbell, Finn. I need applause to live.”

That’s from an early episode of Glee wherein scene-stealer Rachel Berry explains her love affair with fame. While I’m nowhere near deserving of the attention that Lea Michele’s character receives – mostly because I’m not that talented of a singer – I can partially relate.

Pay Attention

I love attention. I crave it. I thrive on it. Who doesn’t? I’ll be honest in admitting I love talking about myself. But like any love-hate chase, I only want attention when it’s not there. When it’s being freely awarded to me, I get weirdly uncomfortable with being in the spotlight. So maybe that’s why I’ve become so attached to the new HBO series Girls. The first season’s finale aired Sunday and let me tell you… it’s a gooder.

Girls Just Want…

Before the NYC-based series premiered, I’d been really excited, having read some of the praise Lena Dunham had received for her previous work. Of course, the idea of a show that focuses on my demographic – 20-something not-quite-grown women trying to deal with post-collegiate life – appealed to my narcissistic side. It’s nice though, y’know, being scrutinized and yet, not having to really deal with any criticism.

Deal With It

Here’s a show that puts me and my friends in the spotlight but without forcing me to own up to my own stupid decisions and mistakes of being in my 20s. Dunham’s show draws from the personal experience of her own life and those around her and yes, while she lives in New York and that is drastically different from my life here in Vancouver, the human experience is still very much the same.

I face paralysing self-doubt whenever my work or writing is put on display. I struggle with my body image, embracing my ‘real’ curves but also wondering what it would take to lose a few pounds. The idea of allowing ourselves the love we think we deserve is also a constant theme. While I’m busy yelling at Hannah for allowing Adam to treat her as horribly as he does, I’m ignoring my own advice by continually being hung up on my own past relationships.


Taking A Cue

The show isn’t about me but I can relate to Dunham’s quirky quartet of heroines. I understand how it might not be attractive to admit that and no, not everyone can connect with the show’s seemingly far-fetched storylines but there’s an element of reality that rings true.

Sure, it might just be the selfish, self-involved side of me that loves Girls, but maybe watching the show religiously – and reading Vulture’s commentary on it – will finally make me realize how many unresolved issues I’ve avoided in my own life. Maybe when Hannah finally sorts out her life, I’ll take my cue and be inspired enough to deal with mine.

I Can Relate

In honour of my obsession with Girls, here are some of my favourite moments from the show’s first season. Be prepared to get to know me a little bit better. (I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good or bad either either…)

1. “I invented him.”
Let me tell you, Hannah. I know what you mean. I have definitely been there. I am probably still there.

2. “You are just naturally interesting.”
I have to remind myself all the time that I’m probably not as boring as I think I am.

3. “I just had this crazy realization…”
I won’t elaborate but… Shosh, I feel you, girl.

4. “You’re wearing a white dress.”
While I’ve never been sent home to change, I have been told that I am very bad at dressing appropriately for work. Sigh.

5. “Are you punking me?”
I never really know how to deal with attention either – see above post, obviously.

Photo Credit: Google Images.

First Look: Foster the People’s “Houdini”

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know I’ve been a longtime fan of Foster the People. I’ve dedicated a couple posts to them over the last year or so and will likely continue writing about them in the future. They’re a quirky band with an interesting style, one I hadn’t seen in a long time. If you’re unfamiliar with this band, then you need to get out from the rock you’ve been living in and introduce yourself to them quickly.

Cultural commentary?

Their new music video for “Houdini” emits the same kind of quirky humour last seen in “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” and “Call It What You Want.” There’s a lot of artists who aim for a ‘quirk’ but when it comes to Foster the People, I feel like there’s always an underlying commentary, something subtle but snarky that they’re trying to say.

Foster the People – “Houdini”

Houdini

The “Houdini” video starts by showing the band members on set of a new music video – turning the focus on the process itself. Only seconds into the clip, a lighting rig crashes down on the set and all three band members are killed – but only in the storyline, of course. While the video crew freaks over the band’s concert the next day and wonder, ‘What the hell are we to do?!’, a secret crew led by a wise-looking Mr. Miyagi-style character receives the call. Instantly, they appear on set, like some secret department of the FBI, and get to work ‘re-animating” the three corpses.

Agents in black body suits begin puppeteering the band members against a black backdrop, positioning them at their instruments, arms flailin’ and feet stompin’. The crew quickly realizes there may be a way to save the show after all instead of having to cancel and refund all those tickets – phew! They get to work filming the band’s new music video and on-set hijinks ensue (including a hilariously staged scene where a band member is bent over suggestively in front of an agent, busy taking a snack break).

The agents also get creative and even hoist the band members into the air, giving the impression of anti-gravity as their instruments ‘explode’ into the air and then reassemble. Though the crew is already impressed, the agents go another step further and even kick in some fancy footwork. The guys are suddenly swapped into white outfits, reminiscent of the Backstreet Boys’ video for “I Want It That Way (Tell Me Why)”.

Performing live

Suddenly, it’s the next day, the crowd is packed, the girls are screaming, the concert experience is shiny and flashy – but let’s be real. When was the last time you were at a concert that exciting? How about never? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The band appears on stage, dressed all in white and the music video scenario is then performed live on stage. The audience is none the wiser that the band is actually dead and that they’re being reanimated by puppeteers! Ack!

However, the concert is a success, the crew is ecstatic and one hell of an after party swings in action. The band doesn’t miss a single beat but of course, being the dead corpses that they are, they’re left slumped – and likely rotting – on a couch in the green room as everyone else enjoys congratulatory high-fives all around. Confetti!

…or playing dead?

When I was in elementary school, we did a Halloween poster project that featured scenes of a graveyard, complete with tombstones. On one, I wrote ‘STEPHANIE IP’ and then put my birth year and the present year. My teacher left it on the wall with all the other posters but when Halloween passed, I collected the poster and brought it home to show my parents. I remember so clearly what my mom said when she saw my tombstone: “Well, that’s messed up. Are you telling me you’re going to die in the next two months?”

As a kid, I thought nothing of it but there is definitely something morbid about dating your own death, even as a joke on a Halloween craft project. That’s why I thought it so peculiar that Foster the People would enact a version of their own deaths in “Houdini.” Sure, some people are superstitious and some aren’t – but I wouldn’t want to tempt the fates either way. Foster, however, are able to find hilarity and a sense of lightness in joking about the afterlife.

‘We’re a real band!’

The video also brought up some interesting points about the role of a ‘star.’ What’s the value of a rock star? Who’s qualified for the job?

In “Houdini,” it’s almost as if Foster the People are downplaying their own success. Anyone could do this. Anyone can orchestrate this level of success, they seem to be saying. The rock star lifestyle is so easy, you could do it with your eyes closed! Heck, you could even use a puppet and still create the same image! Whether you can extrapolate that into commentary on the role of record labels in the creation of an artist… well. That depends whether you think record labels are big, horrible monsters or a legitimate part of how the music industry works.

The music video – that is, the one being filmed within the video – and the concert went off without a hitch, even when its star players were down and out for the count. It could be interpreted as drawing a spotlight on all the aspects that go into a successful band. Or it might be interpreted as illustrating how mindless being a pop star these days can be – just sing some songs, have the right image and the rest will show up on a silver platter.

Disappear

You can draw your own conclusions about what Foster the People meant to say with the video but if you take a look at the lyrics of “Houdini,” there’s a loose explanation.

Got shackles on, my words are tied,
Fear can make you compromise,
Fasten up, it’s time to hide,
Sometimes I wanna disappear.

Much of the lyrics focus on the narrator’s “ability” and feelings of adequacy. It appears the narrator is constrained by some unknown figure’s expectations and challenges – you could use the context of a relationship or if you want to tie it more closely to the video, the context of pop culture and what it expects from its artists. The expectations are so tough that the narrator just wishes he could evaporate like Houdini, and constantly tries to tell himself “it’s up to your ability.”

In a way, the song and video is a white flag of surrender. It’s the idea that, yes, even wildly successful people still face expectations that they don’t always feel like they can measure up to, expectations that are tough to meet. When things get that difficult, the natural instinct is often to run in the other direction, to wish that you could just “disappear,” to remove yourself from the equation and hope that things will continue on.

Featured Photo and Video Stills: Screengrabbed by Stephanie Ip

First Look: Adaline’s “The Noise”

It’s time to admit it. Success in the music industry isn’t always based on talent — a large part also depends on image. Hell, sometimes even image alone can make you, talented or not.

Adaline, however, has plenty of both. The artist, born Shawna Beesley, has more than enough talent to go around. Her live performances and presence overflow with a cool sort of confidence, stylish and hip but not pretentious and overbearing. It’s the perfect storm and a music label’s dream.

This comes across clearly in Adaline’s new music video for “The Noise”, the latest single off her sophomore album, Modern Romantics. The storyline of the video, while a bit abstract, speaks to the context of relationships and looks at the environments where we foster emotional connection. In a city filled with noise and the buzzing of society, where’s the romance?

Of note is director JP Poliquin, who also directed Adaline’s last music video for “Whiter/Straighter.” Poliquin does a great job with “The Noise” and it’s clear he’s a director to follow in the future.

Adaline, “The Noise”
From Modern Romantics (2011)

Adaline – “The Noise”, Modern Romantics (2011)
Director:  JP Poliquin; Production Company:  The Field
Executive Producer:  Cherie Sinclair; Producer:  Jason Aita
DOP:  Todd Williams; Editor:  JP Poliquin
Choreography:  Sidney Leeder
Dancers:  Sidney Leeder, Monica Calzaretto, Milda Gecaite, Katherine Rakus, Randi MacQueen
Male Lead:  Ted Puglia
Hair and Makeup:  Luisa Duran; Stylist:  Muska Zurmati
Label:  Light Organ Records

Feature photo and screen captures by Stephanie Ip.

Come back, baby.

If you’re a musician or a fan of music at all, you know one of the worst things ever is having your gear stolen. Not only is music gear expensive to replace but a lot of musicians develop a special bond with their gear, finetuning it to no end to get that perfect sound.

My friend Graham Madden (of Vancouver, B.C. band Tough Lovers) is missing his pedalboard. It was last seen after their most recent show Nov. 17 at the Media Club. The band took a two-week break before their next practice and that was when they discovered the pedalboard was missing. It had been loaded into the car following the show but seems like it never made it back to the band’s apartment where the rest of the gear was unloaded. It’s uncertain where or when it would’ve been lost in the mix or if it was lifted from the car during load-out.

If you happen to hear of anything or come across something that sounds similar to this on Craigslist or from other folks, please contact him on Twitter at @g_madden or by email. You can also leave a comment on this post. Thanks.

Here’s his message that was posted to Facebook:
“Musician friends: My pedalboard was stolen.
If you have any info on the contents, please let me know ASAP.
The pedals from right to left are:

-Boss TU-2 Tuner
-Jetter Dual Overdrive
-Boss OS-2 Overdrive/Distortion
-Boss DD-3 Delay
-Boss FL-3 Flanger
The pedal board was covered in recognizable burgundy fabric surrounding the pedals.
If you see it anywhere, please let me know.”

Tough Lovers – “Colours”
Exits EP; Released Feb. 4, 2011.

Review: The Penelopiad

During my early years at UBC, I fought with a lot of pressure coming from different places on the merits of an arts degree in the real world. It speaks to the larger issue of how art, literature, creative writing, theatre, music and so on can contribute to society. While some folks are more inclined to write these off as ‘hobbies,’ I think it’s pretty obvious by now that these areas help us to communicate the human experience beyond numbers, reports and dry facts.

THE PENELOPIAD plays at the Stanley Theatre until Nov. 20, 2011. (ARTS CLUB PHOTO)

The Original Desperate Housewife

The Arts Club’s current production of The Penelopiad is the perfect example of how the arts and modern-day life can intersect, helping us to further understand our world.

The Penelopiad is Canadian writer Margaret Atwood‘s take on the famous tale The Odyssey. In Homer’s original story, Odysseus, the Greek king of Ithaca, spends a decade fighting the Trojan War and spends another decade finding his way home. Atwood’s version, however, explores that same 20-year time period but from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, who waits at home in Ithaca. While Odysseus is known for his resourcefulness, Penelope must also channel that same quality to fight a very different war on home turf.

After Odysseus’ departure, the young girl is quickly thrust into control of the household. Following the death of her in-laws, she must also learn to cope with the aggressive affections of suitors and the difficulties of raising a son. Luckily, she has in her company 12 young and loyal maids who help her to weave a tricky lie to fend off the suitors. The disastrous result, however, is heartbreaking and wreaks guilt even on the hearts of audience members who watch helplessly as the tragedy unfolds on the lives of the maids.

Modern Day

Unbeknownst to me, my season tickets happen to land on Talkback Tuesdays of each month. It’s always an interesting experience to hear from the actors themselves.

One of the questions posed was about the modern-day relevancy of The Penelopiad, a play of war, abandonment and traditional cultures. Meg Roe, who plays Penelope in an achingly beautiful and hauntingly graceful manner, responded with the suggestion that Atwood’s play gives a voice to the unheard. (NOTE: I’ve since been corrected that it was actually Dawn Petten who brought up the connection with the Missing Women Inquiry.) She believes that the play is highly topical today and specifically noted its connection with the Missing Women Comission of Inquiry currently taking place in Vancouver.

Missing Women Inquiry

The inquiry, which explores why so many missing DTES women were left uninvestigated during the Pickton era, has drawn national attention, both positive and negative. If you’ve driven through downtown Vancouver recently, it’s possible you’ve encountered protesters who are unhappy with the way those cases have played out, demanding justice for their fallen sisters.

While The Penelopiad certainly doesn’t address those issues directly or in detail, I believe it helps by voicing concerns about those who deserve and seek justice. The play itself is about giving a voice to the voiceless, telling the other side of the story; it brings light to those who can’t plead their own stories. Just as the Missing Women Inquiry hopes to hear the families of victims who have long been left in the dark, The Penelopiad shares the other side of the story and explores how a different kind of battle occurred while Odysseus was away. The play is really about finding justice for those who’ve been wronged.

In retrospect, many aspects of the play may have struck me differently if I’d approached The Penelopiad with the Missing Women Inquiry in mind. A week later, I find myself still turning over and over the different conflicts and issues the play brought to light, examining them through the filter of its modern-day connection.

The Arts Club's THE PENELOPIAD features (clockwise from top) Meg Roe, Laara Sadiq, Rachel Aberle, Ming Hudson, Sarah Donald and others. (DAVID COOPER PHOTO)

In Performance

Despite the morbid nature of the play’s outcome, the cast does a stellar job of playing out the seductively eerie storyline. The choreography and movement add another layer to the story and stretches the audience’s imagination into the wildest, most terrifying places. That credit goes to Denise Clarke, the play’s movement designer.

While Atwood does not state a preference on the makeup of actors, The Penelopiad is commonly played with by an all-female cast, with many doubling up on various roles. Roe addresses the audience as her story’s narrator, candid at times and often casual and relatable. So realistic is her retelling of the story, however, that when she fears for her life, we also feel the same grip on our throats. Colleen Wheeler also deserves mention, doubling as a maid and as Odysseus, realistically commanding and assertive as the king of Ithaca.

There’s much to be said about good chemistry within a cast but The Penelopiad is one example where there’s an obviously high level of trust between the actors. Some of the play’s key moments are difficult to watch and likely heartwrenching for the actors to perform but it’s clear the cast wholeheartedly believes in the words they speak, in their armstrokes and in every step.

The Penelopiad plays until Nov. 20, 2011 at the Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at an Arts Club Theatre box office, by phone at 604-687-1644 or online at www.artsclub.com.

Featured Photo: Meg Roe as Penelope in the Arts Club’s production of THE PENELOPIAD. (DAVID COOPER PHOTO)

First Listen: Modern Romantics

Adaline's 'Modern Romantics' is due Nov. 1, 2011 on Light Organ Records. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

The first time I heard Shawna Beesley — known to most as Adaline — play “That’s What You Do Best” was at a piano recital at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, B.C. The stage was covered in candles and in the center, a baby grand piano and a girl who just loved those black and white keys.

At that point, the song was a sultry, simple, flirtatious theme. I remember the way she introduced the song, laughing into the microphone, bantering playfully with her friends and audience. The song was bare and basic, living only on her deep, throaty vocals, accompanied by the classical twirl of its Spanish melody.

That’s What You Do Best

Now, it’s the lead off Adaline’s sophomore album, Modern Romantics. “That’s What You Do Best” is no longer the simple tune it once was — it’s been worked up to a multi-layered, driving, insane theme of passion, full of chaos and disorder, thrown about by the battered arms of lovers. Like the other songs on the album, there’s the same characteristic voice but it’s now surrounded by the textured and varied layers of skilled production and electronic elements — a sign of Adaline’s audio evoution.

Modern Romantics

The album due on Nov. 1 has been a long time coming since Adaline’s debut album, Famous For Fire, was released in 2008. Graduating from sweeping ballads to electrifying pop haunts, there’s almost a seasoned playfulness on Adaline’s latest effort that somehow wasn’t there before. But while the songs veer into a strange, unfamiliar, yet comfortable direction, Adaline’s lyrics are still very much the same voice listeners have grown to love.

“That’s what I think I was attracted to from the get-go: Somebody who can write a lyric – which again, I can’t stress enough — is just not common, y’know? People who have an elegance with language,” said Canadian quirk-rock artist Hawksley Workman who, along with Marten Tromm and Tino Zolfo, produced Modern Romantics in Toronto, Canada.

Adaline on the set of her new music video for "The Noise," directed by JP Poliquin at Pinewood Toronto Studios. (VANESSA HEINS PHOTO)

Sparks

While Adaline’s last album was very much a journey of sorts, her second album is broken down into different pieces of the same puzzle. Famous For Fire, as gorgeous as it was, couldn’t be fully appreciated in just one song. The 2008 release required a full end-to-end listening before the beauty in every detail shone through.

Modern Romantics, however, boasts more immediate satisfaction with each song carrying its own weight. The album definitely lends itself more easily to radio play and while some may critique that quality, it’s something highly sought after in a world full of disposible pop songs. With this latest offering, Adaline’s proven that she’s not just raw talent but that she can also harness that skill into mastering even the trickiest of pop formulas.

For a preview of Adaline’s Modern Romantics, visit her website at www.adalinemusic.com. Be sure to catch Adaline on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011 at the Biltmore where she’ll be hosting her Vancouver album release party for Modern Romantics. Tickets are $14.74 (includes service fees) and are available on Ticket Web. Trust me. You won’t want to miss this one.

Featured photo by Vanessa Heins; graphic design by Justin Broadbent.

Full Disclosure: I worked as an intern with Adaline for a brief time in 2009. Take this review with a grain of salt — I’m a bit biased since she’s one of my favourite Vancouver (now Toronto) artists.

Review: Next to Normal

There’s a stigma around mental health that’s been poked and prodded in recent weeks here in Vancouver.

Former Canucks player Rick Rypien was one of three NHL players to die this off-season in the midst of mental health struggles. The VPD recently released its second report detailing how police officers become defacto health workers when dealing with the DTES’s mentally ill. It’s a huge deal and it receives media attention but for some reason, we still don’t really know how to approach mental health issues in our every day lives.

Performed On Stage

The set for the Arts Club's production of Next to Normal was designed by Ted Roberts. (GOOGLE PHOTO)

I saw the Arts Club Theatre’s production of Next to Normal earlier tonight at Vancouver’s Stanley Theatre. The musical, fresh off a hit Broadway run, three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, details how mental health issues have gripped a seemingly “normal” suburban family and how they choose to deal with it.

Diana (played by the wonderfully talented Caitriona Murphy) is a mother of two whose fractures are slowly starting to creep up into her marriage. Dan (Warren Kimmel) is her devoted husband who lovingly learns to work with her sporadic and wild swings of emotion. Gabe and Natalie (Eric Morin and Jennie Neumann) are their two children, emotionally distanced from each other as if they’d never met. The rock musical is composed by Tom Kitt and the book is by Brian Yorkey.

Illustrated Through Music

Though its format is a musical and mental health is a serious issue, the two concepts meld seamlessly, thanks to Kitt and Yorkey’s careful interpolation of each character’s voice. The music is wildly enthusiastic, an illustration of the mental states of each character at various points of the story. Voices constantly drop in and out of the main theme of each song, often with overlapping and competing lines.

Although there are points where the stress of the demanding vocals begins to peek through, it bears repeating that these actors perform the show eight times a week and have no understudies to rely on. All things considered, I’d still argue that the music is probably one of the more catching qualities of the production, subtly driving home points about how mental health affects us without us realizing, how it drives us in different directions.

 Private Struggle

Each character fights their own private struggle that runs parallel to the family’s main conflict — Diana is slowly becoming more and more unhinged as she bounces between treatment options. (It’s hilariously outlined in a sing-song grocery list of medication followed by, “These are a few of my favourite things.”) It’s not until part way through the first half of the play when we realize there’s something deeper and darker than just being chemically imbalanced.

Diana’s pain draws on emotional depths that are exposed in violent and frightening ways. The story does this by spending a fair amount of time examining how Diana’s actions have affected her 16-year-old daughter Natalie. As we watch Natalie meet a boy and develop a relationship, we begin to fear that history will repeat itself as we watch her spiral into a similar pattern as her mother — each of their flaws are reflected in the other.

Promotional poster for the Arts Club's production of Next to Normal. (ARTS CLUB PHOTO)

Feeling Everything

Without giving away too much of the plot or sharing my own personal history, the musical is rightly sold as “the feel-everything musical” — I felt it all. Thought its subject is dark, there are moments of hilarious clarity that give the audience hope throughout. Although my real-life situation is vastly differently from the story on stage, I could feel myself becoming attached to the struggles Natalie experienced when dealing with her mother.

While many films, plays, musicals, productions are predictable and follow format, Next to Normal presented so many different opportunities to its characters. I was never really sure whether Diana would survive the insanity presented at the beginning of the story but by the end, you become so attached to the characters that you can’t help but support their decisions and feel as though things will be okay. The story, characters and the issues discussed draw in the audience and force us to examine how a family falls apart and attempts to put itself back together again.

Next to Normal plays until Oct. 9, 2011. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at an Arts Club Theatre box office, by phone at 604-687-1644 or online at www.artsclub.com. I highly, highly recommend you check it out if you’ve got the chance.

Featured Photo: Eric Morin, Jennie Neumann, Caitriona Murphy and Warren Kimmel star in the Arts Club’s Next to Normal. (DAVID COOPER PHOTO)