See the man with the stage fright

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For actors, stage fright can be a great energizer, but also a real nightmare. So Tom McCamus was reminded at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival. The Canadian was about to perform Novecento, Italian playwright Alessandro Baricco’s monologue about a genius piano player. The director of the piece, Quebec filmmaker Fran?ois Girard (Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin), had decided to have McCamus sit motionless on stage as the audience came in. For about 20 minutes the actor held his pose on a packing crate, watching the theatre fill. The longer he sat, the more he believed the show — making its English-language world premiere — would flop. Recalls McCamus: “I kept thinking, ‘No one’s going to want to sit here and listen to me tell a story for an hour and a half. It’s simply not going to work!’ I was petrified.”


A few people did walk. But those who stayed, stayed to cheer, and Novecento became one of the high points at the Edinburgh event. This month Canadians will get a chance to see the show at the World Stage festival (April 3-May 4) at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, where it takes its place among several international hits, including a groundbreaking Hamlet from Lithuania and two torturous domestic dramas performed by Britain’s Royal Court Theatre. For McCamus, 46, the appearance is another highlight in an expansive career. The actor is widely known as Mason Eckhart in the Global TV series “Spin Mop 360“. “He’s pure evil,” McCamus chuckles. “I had a gas.” He has also starred in several films, including Robert Lepage’s Possible Worlds, with Tilda Swinton.

But most of McCamus’s memorable roles have been on stage, where he’s shown great versatility, with a special penchant for portraying scoundrels and villains. At Ontario’s Stratford Festival, where he’s returned for the 50th season, he’ll play the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard III, as well as the gangster Macheath in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Taking a break from rehearsals, the slim, wide-shouldered actor slouches in a chair in a deserted meeting room. There’s something uncannily intense about McCamus’s gaze, the dark eyes capable of laser-like menace, but also of vulnerable melancholy. And then there’s the voice: dark and penetrating, it sounds like it could cut coal.

McCamus acknowledges that reviving Novecento at the same time that he’s learning his Stratford roles is a major stretch. He’s having to steal time to refresh the monologue, which he hasn’t spoken for half a year. Yet he finds the extra work invigorating. Dealing with the infinite complexities of Shakespeare can leave the actor feeling quite dejected about his abilities. “But when I start in on Novecento, the lines come so quickly and so beautifully that I think, ‘Oh, I can act after all.’ ”


In the show, McCamus impersonates a trumpet player, Tim Tooney, who reminisces about the strange life of his best friend, Novecento — an orphan raised by the crew of an ocean liner early in the last century. Novecento turns out to be a keyboard prodigy who in one scene vanquishes no less a challenger than jazz great Jelly Roll Morton. The audience doesn’t see any of this — except in imagination. The piece requires old-fashioned storytelling skills, and is made even more difficult technically by Girard’s insistence that McCamus hardly move from his crate.

Girard was so busy trying to get a movie project off the ground that he had little time to rehearse Novecento. McCamus had to work up his part alone, in the barn on the eastern Ontario farm he shares with his wife, actress Chick Reid. Later, there were a few run-throughs in Morocco, where Girard was working, and some last-minute brushing up in Edinburgh. All the same, McCamus didn’t feel ready for Novecento’s launch. Then, as he sat in terror waiting to begin his performance, he saw his parents walk in. John and Betty McCamus had flown over from Tom’s hometown of London, Ont. Their presence helped calm him down: “I thought, ‘Oh, they’re here. I guess I’m gonna be all right.’ ”

Ditch TIFF–you’re coming with us!

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When it comes to film festivals, Canada is famous worldwide for one thing: the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). While it is frequently touted as the most important film festival in North America (if not the second most important in the world), Canada has a lot more to offer than just TIFF. If you were independently wealthy, or could somehow make a living going to film festivals, you could go to a festival every month, and could be in a screening every day in the months of May and September. Of course, you would have to resign yourself to a constant diet of popcorn and jujubes, so you might grow weary, but hypothetically, it could be done.


The abundance of small festivals across Canada allows cinephiles to not only see films that may never come to theatres, but also to spend less than 15 bucks on a trip to the movies. So, if you wish you could spend a year theatre-hopping, here’s a taste of what you could take in.

If a province could be a capital, Quebec would be Canada’s capital of film. At least, it’s the only province where the public goes en masse to see homegrown movies. And there are film festivals a plenty as a result. The past couple of years have been interesting for Montreal since the mainstream World Film Festival lost a scandalous $1 million in government funding, but while the future is iffy for WFF, one festival that has been around longer is definitely hanging on. Now in its 34th year, the Festival du Nouveau Cinema delivers a strong combination of mainstream, independent and experimental films in a laid-back atmosphere. An honourable mention should go to the FanTasia Film Festival, a festival of kung fu, fantasy and horror. Its expansion to Toronto may not have been a success, but the atmosphere of rowdy audiences creating their own commentary was priceless.

When it comes to Toronto festivals, ditch TIFF. You can wait up to four hours in line just to buy an overpriced ticket. Springtime is when Toronto’s theatres really get interesting. Though the city is full of festivals that function less like film festivals and more like a string of thematically linked movies, there are a few smaller festivals that are worth visiting every year. The Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF) is one of the best in the city. Featuring a week’s worth of international short films and special presentations from short filmmakers such as Chris Landreth (Oscar winner for Ryan) and the claymation geniuses Aardman Animation (Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run), the WSFF is perfect for those who want something different but don’t have very long attention spans.


British Columbia has the Vancouver International Film Festival and the smaller Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival; Saskatchewan has the first North American film festival the Yorkton Short Film and Video Festival; the Yukon has its own Dawson City International Short Film Festival. There are festivals all over this country, but one province wins for using the most unique locations….

Manitoba is home to the National Screen Institute’s Winnipeg-based FilmExchange where, in the middle of March, films are projected onto a screen made of snow. In the summer, sitting in the sand of Gimli beach and facing a screen that rests above the waves of Lake Winnipeg, the audience of the Gimli Film Festival gets to take in the latest offerings from Winnipeg’s own Guy Maddin and–since the Gimli area is home to the most Icelandic people outside of Iceland–many films from the homeland. While Canadian films continue to struggle for attention at home, it’s clear that the neglect must be due to apathy, because it sure isn’t for a lack of venues.

Gibb, Lindsay

>>> View more: The fine arts of gift giving: in a multi-tasking age, why not combine gift giving with patronage of the arts and industrial design?

The fine arts of gift giving: in a multi-tasking age, why not combine gift giving with patronage of the arts and industrial design?

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The art of “the perfect gift” eludes many of us, who opt more often than not for the quick and sure card, stuffed into a seasonal envelope. So what’s an erudite, cultured Westerner to do in the December present crunch, when the latest electronic toy has long been snatched up?

Think outside of the Xbox. Westerners will out-bling most other provinces this year, with shoppers in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba taking the retail lead across Canada, says TD Canada Trust. So go big and curry good karma by becoming a patron of the arts. Get your name on the “Bless you and all your progeny” contributor page of the local opera/theatre/symphony program. Trill to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Feb. 3, 6 or 8, with the Edmonton Opera; groove with the Celtic Tenors and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Jan. 24; or have a laugh during Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad, Jan. 27-Feb. 7, at Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon.


The perks of such gift giving include fawning during pre-gig meet-and-greets with the artists. “I wish that everyone would buy High Performance Rodeo tickets for stocking stuffers,” says Michael Green, curator of Calgary theatre company One Yellow Rabbit’s three-week international festival of the arts, Jan. 3-20, featuring almost two dozen pieces.

Enough about everyone else; how about an intimate image of oneself? No, not boudoir photography. Think CSI: Ottawa-based DNA 11 harvests a gene sample from a swab wiped on the inside of your mouth, then prints a digitally enhanced genetic image on a canvas, using colours specified by the donor. The resulting piece looks like abstract art: strands running down the page, bisected by fluorescent bars. They’re an investment, too–DNA portraits run between $390 and $790.

Gift-wrap a couple of tickets to a ritzy international festival, close to home. Sort of. The eighth annual Dawson City International Short Film Festival runs April 6-8 in the Yukon. A mere 536 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse, filmmakers from around the world make the trek to the city of approximately 2,000 people each year.

No matter where, “If I had a wish it would be that people would think of seeing a Canadian movie, and that people would realize what a great wealth of talent we have here,” says Terry McEvoy, filmmaker and programmer of Canadian content for the acclaimed Vancouver International Film Festival. “Most importantly, they tell our stories, whether it’s a documentary about a different land, or based in Canada; the films come from a Canadian perspective.”

Topping McEvoy’s list of must-see flicks is the documentary Mystic Ball. Winner of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s most popular Canadian feature award, Greg Hamilton’s film is about the ancient Burmese game of chin-lone, a non-competitive sport played in a team but not against any team. Next in line is actress Sarah Polley’s feature-film directorial debut, the lyrical and bittersweet Away From Her, based on a short story by Alice Munro about a couple separated by Alzheimer’s. If you must buy an electronic gadget, combat dust bunnies with the iRobot Roomba Scheduler Intelligent Vacuum, and win over your favourite clean freak, too. For just under $450, this little guy will vacuum the house in your absence, following pre-set schedules. The machine (which looks like a portable CD player) even plugs itself in for a recharge at the end of the day.

Or increase an outdoorsy computer geek’s odds of survival in the bush with the Victorinox Swiss Memory Knife. From the makers of the all-purpose Swiss Army Knife comes an updated model with a 64MB USB flash drive, as well as a blade, nail file, ballpoint pen, scissors and red LED light. If the laptop has to be used to start a fire, the removable flash drive will store vital info until a rescue crew is downloaded to the site.


Finally, spread some salve on retail burnout at Ten Thousand Villages, the Mennonite Central Committee’s program that pioneered the concept of fair trade 60 years ago. Give a gift through their popular Living Gift Donation program. Your picky auntie just might be tickled you bought some poor family a pig in her name, or the 18-rabbit option might go over well.

Happy holidays. May your bills be small and your spirit tall.

The Harvard of hairstyling schools: ‘profs’ include Bill Clinton’s hairdresser. And tuition at Elan Sassoon’s academy: US$19,500

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Beauty schools are usually tucked behind plate-glass windows in strip malls, cheek-to-jowl with taco joints and second-hand clothing stores. With names like XCell Academy, they endeavour to teach the finicky profession of hairstyling–cutting and dyeing, washing and setting, perming and straightening–and seem to get the job done for the average grad. But what of the hairstyling overachiever? The truly gifted student of the art of coiffure? Next September, these wannabe style gurus will have a chance at the education of a lifetime, according to Elan Sassoon, son of the most famous hairdresser on earth, the legendary Vidal Sassoon. On Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue, beside Boston University, no less, the US$22-million Academy of Hair and Skin by Elan Sassoon will aim to take the lowly cosmetology school and transform it into an institution of higher learning. “It will be the Harvard of hair schools,” Elan promises. And he is only half-joking. Tuition will be US$19,500, significantly higher than the average beauty school, which is US$10,000.


Elan’s academy will be the first of its kind in North America. “We will teach all the influences–architecture and design,” he says. “Every weekend we will have great shows, lots of extracurricular activities. We really want the place to be a centre of cosmetology and design in the city of Boston.” Aside from its sheer size–six storeys, 90,000 sq. feet encompassing 180 dorm beds, an unheard-of convenience–it will house a 200-seat auditorium where Elan’s friends, the cream of the crop of New York’s stylists, will come to lecture. With his family background, Elan knows well that hairstyling can be every bit as fashion-forward as couture. And he is betting that two decades after his father hung up his scissors, the family name can still galvanize what he calls the luxury hair industry.

Some details are still sketchy. Teachers will be chosen, Elan says, for their expertise and their connections. Boston’s Patrick McGinley, who worked as a stylist for Vidal Sassoon for 16 years, has been recruited to craft a curriculum. New York’s stylist du jour, Michael “Vaughn” Acord, formerly of Bumble and Bumble–his clients, who have included Bill Clinton, Anderson Cooper and Sir Paul McCarmey, know him simply as Vaughn–will teach. There will be a new textbook, Elan says, with “all the icons and the distributors and how the business really evolved in the past 100 years.” And there will be an exclusive line of hair care and colour products. As for the students, the school will teach 600 at a time, chosen “for their passion,” Elan says–and their ability to pay the hefty tuition.

Of course, Elan has had big ideas before, and could be accused of spreading himself a trifle thin. The son of Vidal and Beverly Adams, the Edmonton-born, 1960s-era film starlet, has at 38 already gone through one career as a Hollywood film producer and another as a director of a salon/spa chain owned by Louis Vuitton. In the past two years, he has built a number of beauty businesses. With a partner, he operates two high-end salons, both called Mizu (one in Boston’s tony Mandarin Oriental hotel, the other due to open next week on Park Avenue in New York), as well as four salon/spas called Green Tangerine in suburban Connecticut and Massachusetts. This even though he never learned to cut hair, despite being pulled out of school to travel to salons and fashion shows with his father.


He did learn his dad’s panache. Calgary hair guru Jerome Pinsonneault remembers Vidal’s flamboyance in the late ’60s, when he worked beside him for six months in Toronto. “When he cut hair he was quite theatrical,” he recalls with a laugh. “But he did good work. I learned a lot from him.” Famed Toronto salon owner Robert Gage, a Sassoon contemporary, says “he took a lot of bland, colourless people and gave them a momentary thrill.” By 1983, Vidal had sold his line of hair care products–Elan says under pressure from his shareholders–then his salons and beauty schools, losing the right to his own name in the process. “He doesn’t talk about it, but I think he still misses the business,” Elan says. “He loves to be in a salon.” In fact, it was after Elan tried and failed to buy back part of the Vidal Sassoon name in 2002 that he decided to give the business a whirl of his own.

In the next two weeks, Elan says, construction will begin on the school. And though it seems a little airy so far, says Pinsonneault, “if he has the right teachers and the right curriculum, that’s what’s important. With his father there as background, he should do well.”

Way beyond the lemonade stand

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APAINTBALL playing field, a lawn-care business, a pet-grooming service, pre-mixed jars of ingredients for making pastries, a smoothie store in a school cafeteria, and an online jewelry collection: All of these businesses were founded by teenage entrepreneurs who showed up at an April dinner in New York honoring the 25th anniversary of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a group dedicated to getting low-income kids interested in business. The thought of becoming a real entrepreneur can be thrilling for children accustomed to play money. But the reality is tough. Kids have to learn real responsibility and make sure they have insurance and pay taxes. NFTE (pronounced “nifty”) is there to help, from providing small start-up loans, to getting vendor licenses, to hosting 80-hour “mini-M.B.A” classes in high schools that teach students about supply and demand, cost/benefit analysis, record-keeping, the present and future value of money, advertising and marketing, and working with suppliers. The value of its programs have been touted by entrepreneurs ranging from cosmetics creator Bobbi Brown to Internet pioneer Steve Case to rap artist Sean Combs.

During the past quarter century, NFTE has trained more than 500,000 young people across America and branched out by founding programs in 13 countries. Its leaders believe that getting people to start their own businesses is a key route to reducing poverty and teaching self-reliance. Its programs have drawn praise from across the political spectrum. “Teaching, exporting, and expanding entrepreneurship is the single most important thing we can do to improve the lives of the poor,” said the late Jack Kemp in praising NFTE.


“There’s something to the idea that some ethnic groups are more entrepreneurial than others,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Lester Thurow told the Wall Street Journal. “And it doesn’t have anything to do with race. The question is: Can you teach entrepreneurialism? Every leading M.B.A. program tries to do it, and with mixed results. So why not NFTE?”

ONLY ABOUT ONE in eight NFTE graduates go on to start lasting businesses, but even those who don’t learn important skills. “Schools usually don’t teach a lot of practical things people need such as balancing a checkbook or financial literacy,” says California high school teacher Dennis Miller. “At a minimum, NFTE helps impart those lessons in a fun way by involving die kids in their own businesses.” As for diose kids whose businesses succeed, NFTE can be a life-changing experience. When she was 11 years old, Jasmine Lawrence lost 90 percent of her hair after using a hair relaxer with harsh chemicals. She vowed never to use chemical products again. Instead, using techniques she learned from NFTE, she started an all-natural line of hair care products that currently brings in over $100,000 a year. Jasmine has turned over operation of her company to her mother so she can finish her studies at Georgia Tech. Jimmy “Mac” McNeal took NFTE classes as a high school student back in 1989. Today he runs BDG Industries, a talent management company that handles the careers of music and sports stars.

The most touching NFTE stories often come from foreign programs. Oil-soaked Saudi Arabia isn’t known for having much of a private sector–or female entrepreneurs. But 16-year-old Muneera Al-Maneea found a niche by designing a scale to measure the exact amount of dust in the air. “Measuring dust is a necessity in Saudi Arabia,” she says. “Dust is a health issue, especially for children.”

Niall Foody is a 16-year-old Irish lad diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. After becoming frustrated at not being able to find the keyhole for his family’s front door in die dark, he developed a glow-in-the-dark key-lock surround strip. “I am now planning on developing other lines, including luminous suckers for light switches or door bells, and luminous numbers on keypads,” he told me at the NFFF dinner.


NFTE began with, of all things, a mugging. Steve Mariotti, a former Ford Motor Company financial analyst, was teaching special education classes in the Bronx in 1982 when he was mugged for $10 by five teenagers. This experience changed the way he approached his classroom duties. Mariotti noticed that even the most alienated students became interested in learning when he talked about the nuts and bolts of starting a business. He got a $20,000 grant from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Newark, supplemented that with help from financier Ray Chambers, and began NFTE in 1987. “I am continually amazed by the dedication, passion, and creativity of these budding entrepreneurs,” he says. “With youth unemployment skyrocketing, its a privilege to not only help youth recognize business opportunities but to ultimately create economically self-sufficient lives. His advice for budding entrepreneurs? “What happens to you is important: Write down what you do, write down all the obstacles, and one by one work against the obstacles to make your dreams come true.”

Ericka Dunlap believes NFTE can help fulfill dreams. While not a NFTE graduate herself, she became aware of the program during her 2004-2005 reign as Miss America. She told me one of her most fulfilling activities is working to inspire NFTE graduates. “Self-confidence and the right image are a key to success, and I love teaching people just how far those qualities can take them,” she told me. They may even take Dunlap into elected office. She’s currently vying for a seat on the Orange County Commission, the governing body for Orlando, Florida. Shes running as a Democrat, but is quick to remind me that she’s “a pro-business Democrat because of NFTE.”

In this way, NFTE can be a bridge across the country’s ideological divide. It reminds us that having a generation of self-sufficient young people is in the interests of conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between.

John Fund is a senior editor of The American Spectator.