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The Conversation: Bruce McDonald and Kelley Armstrong on spooky stories and making sequels

The place: Salvador Darling in Parkdale
The people: film director Bruce McDonald and horror writer Kelley Armstrong
The subject: spooky stories and making sequels

The Conversation: Raising Spirits

The Hunger Games and Twilight hog all the attention, but Kelley Armstrong has been repeatedly landing on the New York Times bestseller lists with her supernatural guilty reads about sexy werewolves, witches and vampires, and kids who can raise the dead. The 13th and final instalment in her Otherworld series for grown-ups hits stores this summer, while the second book in her teen-friendly, necromancy-themed Darkness Rising trilogy is out now. Local indie film legend and cowboy hat enthusiast Bruce McDonald has spent some time at the undead rodeo, most notably for his zombie flick Pontypool, and now in the follow-up to his career-making 1996 film Hard Core Logo, a fake documentary about a punk-rock band’s last hurrah. While most of the original characters are gone, we do get a visit from the spirit of Joe Dick, the disgruntled frontman who famously offed himself at the end of the original.

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The Conversation: Steven Page and Johannes Debus on making music—both popular and avant garde

The place: the Cameron House on Queen West | The people: singer-songwriter Steven Page and COC music director Johannes Debus | The subject: playing the hits versus sowing your musical oats

The Conversation: A Fine Balance

Steven Page has charted new musical waters since leaving the Barenaked Ladies following his notorious drug bust in 2008. He’s been performing and recording with the adventurous classical musicians of the Art of Time Ensemble, composing music for Stratford productions (including Cymbeline, opening in May) as well as for film (including Kevin Tierney’s French Immersion) and performing as a solo act with a hand-picked backing band, as he does this month at the Winter Garden. Johannes Debus, the youngest music director in the Canadian Opera Company’s history, is big on keeping things fresh, too, and often collaborates with auteurs like Robert Carsens and Atom Egoyan on audacious reimaginings of old favourites. This month, he conducts Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman, a rare opera classic that hasn’t been done to death.

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The Conversation: authors Linden MacIntyre and Kyo Maclear on relationships, family and deception

The place: The Rooster Coffee House on Broadview | The people: authors Linden MacIntyre and Kyo Maclear | The subject: relationships, families and other reasons to deceive

The Conversation: Lie To Me

True love is hard to find; truthful love, even harder. Whether between partners, family members or friends, all relationships rest on a few sneaky little fictions. For writers, this endless cycle of deceit is the stuff that award-winning books are made of. Linden MacIntyre won the Giller Prize in 2009 for The Bishop’s Man, about a priest trying to cover up the sins of his church. His new novel, with its Google-friendly title Why Men Lie, is about an older woman who has learned to be cautious, at least until she meets a man who seems too good to be true. (Spoiler alert: he is.) Kyo Maclear has written a lot about complex family dynamics. She used her experiences growing up as the only daughter of a mixed-race couple as fodder for Spork, her award-winning children’s book, as well as for her first novel, The Letter Opener. Her new novel, Stray Love, is about a man trying to forgive his adoptive father for failing to be entirely honest about his real parents. We bought these two tale spinners coffee and let them get to the bottom of things.

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The Conversation: star baritone Russell Braun and musical theatre dynamo Louise Pitre

The place: Aria Ristorante
The people: star baritone Russell Braun and musical theatre dynamo Louise Pitre
The subject: belting it out in different languages

The Conversation: Vocal Point

Filling a room with the sound of your voice is hard enough—imagine having to do it in a second language. For an in-demand baritone like Russell Braun, delivering big emotions and big notes in another tongue is just part of the job. This month, Braun stars in the Canadian Opera Company’s French-language production of Kaija Saariaho’s lush and romantic Love From Afar. Louise Pitre is just as linguistically adept, having spent much of the past year touring North America singing tunes by Jacques Brel, Édith Piaf and Ira Gershwin (with room left for the odd number by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus). Now she’s unleashing her interpretive powers on her own work for a concert of original dramatic songs—in French and English—written in collaboration with her husband, actor Joe Matheson, and pianist Diane Leah. We brought these two polyglot singers together for a few glasses of wine and listened in.

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The Conversation: Arsinée Khanjian and Megan Follows on collaborating with loved ones

The place: Caffe Doria at Yonge and Roxborough. The people: actors Arsinée Khanjian and Megan Follows. The subject: collaborating with loved ones

The Conversation: The Family Business

Before Anne of Green Gables made her a teen star, Megan Follows (above right) was known as the youngest in a family of theatre people that included actor-director Ted Follows, her father, and actor Dawn Greenhalgh, her mother. They separated when Follows was young but continued to collaborate occasionally. In the decades since, Megan has worked with various members of her acting clan, including in an all-Follows production of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever. This month, she stars as the wife of Odysseus in the stage adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s tartly revisionist The Penelopiad. Arsinée Khanjian also knows the perils and joys of working with family: her best-known roles have been in the films Exotica and Ararat, both directed by her husband, Atom Egoyan. This month, Egoyan directs her onstage for the first time ever in Cruel and Tender, by the British playwright Martin Crimp and based on a work by Sophocles. Like Follows in Penelopiad, Khanjian plays the wife of a soldier who brings his work home with him—in this case, a terrorism-fighting general who may be doing more harm than good. We invited the two to Caffe Doria in Rosedale and listened in as they chatted about mixing the personal and the professional.

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The Conversation: The Book of Awesome author Neil Pasricha laughs it up with Jessica Holmes

The Conversation: Laugh it Up

The place: Tequila Bookworm at Queen and Portland.
The people: Neil Pasricha and Jessica Holmes.
The subject: Surviving the holidays

For those who prefer not to drink themselves into oblivion over the holidays, there are other ways to survive the stress of the season. Neil Pasricha and Jessica Holmes, for example, are big believers in the power of positive thinking (though they wouldn’t necessarily turn down a strategically spiked eggnog). Pasricha is the relentlessly enthusiastic mind behind the mega-selling phenomenon The Book of Awesome and its sequels, including a new, holiday-themed volume. The books, which began life as a daily blog listing all things you-know-what, have made Pasricha a positivity guru who brings his gospel of awesomeness to conferences and corporate workshops (when he’s not working his day job as a human resources manager in Mississauga). Holmes is best known for her stint on the Royal Canadian Air Farce. Following the publication of her 2010 memoir I Love Your Laugh, she began a second career as a motivational speaker, preaching emotional healing through humour. Holmes is currently onstage in Ross Petty’s holiday panto version of The Wizard of Oz, playing (of course) the Good Witch Splenda.

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The Conversation: artist-illustrators Gary Taxali and Graham Roumieu on art, wine and wolverines

The Conversation: Graphic Jam

(Image: Daniel Ehrenworth)

The place: The Gem on Davenport.
The people: artist-illustrators Gary Taxali and Graham Roumieu.
The subjects: art, wine and wolverines

Gary Taxali’s quirky, handcrafted illustrations, reminiscent of early 20th-century advertising and comics, have graced the pages of Esquire, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, as well as several book and rock album covers (his collaboration with singer Aimee Mann earned him a Grammy nomination). The high art crowd loves him, too: his work has appeared at the Whitney and the ROM, and he was a featured artist at the Made in Polaroid 50/50/50 exhibition in New York earlier this fall. Graham Roumieu (above, right) creates droll weekly editorial cartoons for the Globe and Mail and often illustrates for the New York Times and The Walrus. He’s best known, however, for his Bigfoot books—wry, raunchy tomes about a sasquatch who just wants to be understood. Both have new books out: two European publishers have assembled collections of Taxali’s work, while Roumieu recently collaborated with Douglas Coupland on Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People, which features, among other nefarious creatures, a homicidal juice box. We met the pair for drinks at The Gem and listened in as they chatted about the state of their art. Click here for Taxali and Roumieu’s conversation »

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The Conversation: Colm Wilkinson and Deborah Hay discuss melodic storytelling at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

The place: Luma at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The people: musical theatre legend Colm Wilkinson and actor-turned-singer Deborah Hay. The subject: melodic storytelling

HIGH NOTES

Torontonians love blockbuster musicals. We flocked to Phantom of the Opera for a decade and sang along to Mamma Mia! for five years, and Colm Wilkinson has made his career on our zeal. The prodigally piped Irishman moved here in 1989 to star in Toronto’s first production of Phantom after spending two years doing Les Misérables in NYC and London. His latest concert, Broadway and Beyond, features a band and two singers accompanying Wilkinson as he sings classics from both shows, along with some of his personal favourites (John Denver, Johnny Cash, John Lennon and of course the Irish anthem “Danny Boy”). Deborah Hay made her name in Shaw Festival productions like The Women and Born Yesterday and is now adding musical theatre to her repertoire, taking on Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. We got them together for seared tuna salads and a little shop talk.

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Russell Peters and Trey Anthony on jokes, race and jokes about race

The place: Cora’s Breakfast and Lunch in Woodbridge. The people: comedians Russell Peters and Trey Anthony. The subject: jokes, race and jokes about race

THE COLOUR OF FUNNY

Russell Peters has been poking fun at his fellow Indians—not to mention Brits, Jamaicans, Chinese and just about every other ethnicity—for more than two decades now, selling out the Air Canada Centre and ranking among the top 10 highest-paid stand-up comedians on the planet along the way. His latest DVD, The Green Card Tour, Live from the O² Arena, filmed in London, England, is a must-see for comedy-loving couch potatoes. Trey Anthony, the British-born Jamaican-Canadian playwright and actor, has also made it her job to send up stereotypes. Ten years ago, her career leapt from the Fringe (where her play ’da Kink in My Hair, about a West Indian hair salon, debuted) to the foreground (’da Kink became a hit for Mirvish and was turned into a sitcom). The play is getting a rejig and a remount next month at the Harbourfront Centre, before heading out on a North American tour that will spread Anthony’s brand of hysterical and heartwarming sass to audiences across the southern U.S. But the comedians have more in common than just the polarizing race card. Both grew up in Brampton, both cite their families as the ultimate source of hilarity, and both say Canadians need to get over their tall poppy hang-ups. We got them together at Cora’s in Woodbridge (one of Peters’ favourite hangouts), bought brunch (extra sausage) and listened in.

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Why writer Tabatha Southey and artist-architect Philip Beesley are smitten with Toronto

The place: C5 at the ROM. The people: writer Tabatha Southey and artist–architect Philip Beesley. The subject: why they’re smitten

AN URBAN AFFAIR

Globe and Mail columnist Tabatha Southey is known for her quick wit, but her latest project was a slow burn. Ten years ago, her son Basil’s school asked parents to compose a valentine for their kids. Southey wrote a poem about the make-believe house she wanted to build for Basil, a burgeon­ing architecture fan. That poem is now a storybook, It Must Be As Tall As a Lighthouse, illustrated by starchitect Will Alsop and recently published by Parkdale’s new artisanal press The Book Bakery, which focuses on small print runs of beautiful, visually driven books. Think of it as the locavore movement for the lit set.) Artist and architect Philip Beesley is equally at home in the world of whimsy. An international figure in the trippy field of responsive architecture, he creates structures that change form, colour or shape depending on their environment. This month, he unleashes his hovering, undulating art installation, Sargasso, on the Brookfield Place atrium as part of the Luminato Festival. We brought the design-obsessed duo to one of the city’s most divisive architectural attractions, the ROM Crystal, sprang for lunch and listened in.

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Men of action: Ennis Esmer and Kenny Hotz talk about the things they’ll do for a buck

The place: Dangerous Dan’s Diner on Queen East. The people: Wipeout Canada co-host Ennis Esmer and Triumph of the Will star Kenny Hotz. The subject: the things people will do for a buck

Our collective craving for thrill-and-spill television is boundless. If it weren’t, we would have long moved beyond watching complete strangers and D-list celebrities lose their heads, hearts and dignity over cash prizes, skeevy bachelors or a shot at fame. The comedy stunt film Jackass 3D opened at number one across North America last fall, a stat that bodes well for Wipeout Canada, our very own version of the popular American game show on which contestants must complete the ultimate obstacle course to claim $50,000. As co-host, actor Ennis Esmer (seated on the left) is expected to dish out quips while players do their best not to plummet into a mud pit or get socked in the face/gut/groin by giant red balls. Kenny Hotz is a bona fide cult TV hero, having created and starred in the lewd and crude hit Kenny vs. Spenny. His new comedy series, Kenny Hotz’s Triumph of the Will, is about accomplishing tasks that most people would think are insane, from building a mosque at Jones and Gerrard (“I must be the first Jew to ever give the gift of a mosque to Islam”) to asking recent moms for their placentas—and getting one. In keeping with the reigning spirit of sadism, we sat the funny guys down at the viciously greasy east-end diner Dangerous Dan’s, bought them artery-busting burgers and listened in.

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Buck 65 and Jully Black talk about awards, ambition and the all-powerful Internet

The place: Hub Coffee House and Locavorium on Shaw. The people: hip hopper Buck 65 and R&B singer Jully Black. The subject: awards, ambition and the all-powerful Internet

This month, the Juno Awards return home to Toronto—with hip hop star Drake as host—to mark 40 years of honouring Canada’s music makers: Stompin’ Tom Connors and Maestro Fresh Wes, the Tragically Hip and Arcade Fire, and Anne Murray and Avril Lavigne have all snagged prizes. Add rapper Rich Terfry (a.k.a. Buck 65) and R&B diva Jully Black to that list. On paper, the pair don’t have a lot in common: he’s kinda quiet, she booms into a room; he’s from small-town Nova Scotia, she grew up at Jane and Finch; he spits out rhymes, she belts it out like Beyoncé. But, as is often the case when two people sit down together, similarities emerge. In addition to both being Juno winners (he claimed Alternative Album of the Year and Video of the Year, she took home R&B/Soul Recording of the Year), both have gigs on the other side of the mic (she as a correspondent for Etalk, he as the host of CBC’s Radio 2 Drive), both have new projects (his recently released album 20 Odd Years, her upcoming 8ight), both think Justin Bieber is more a sign of the times than a sign of the second coming, and both credit their moms (awww) with much of their success. With the Junos looming (and the snow dumping down), we bought them a drink and listened in.

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Kids Inc.: Degrassi’s Raymond Ablack and Skins’ Camille Cresencia-Mills discuss post-millennial TV teenagedom

The place: Sneaky Dee’s. The people: Degrassi’s Raymond Ablack and Skins’ Camille Cresencia-Mills. The subject: post-millennial TV teenagedom

Metaphorical miles away from the tony Upper East Side of Gossip Girl and the palatial hills of 90210, two TV shows are giving viewers a realistic, OMFG-free rendering of adolescent angst. Degrassi (the next generation) has been a teen staple since 2001 and was instrumental in launching the stateside careers of Vampire Diaries hottie Nina Dobrev and rap superstar Drake. Skins, the raunchy BBC series about a group of hard-partying, troubled friends in Bristol, England, quickly scored cult status after its 2007 debut. It was only a matter of time before it headed this way: the North American remake premieres this month. Both shows have won critical and popular acclaim by focusing on what’s really up with high schoolers today. And both shows are known for using young writers, and for casting untested, age-appropriate actors (instead of hard-to-believe 25-year-olds). Ryerson undergrad Raymond Ablack has been portraying Degrassi’s steadfast student body president, Sav, for four seasons. Camille Cresencia-Mills, a senior at the Etobicoke School for the Arts, recently snagged the part of the trumpet-playing prodigy Daisy—Skins’ moral conscience—after attending an open casting call. We got the onscreen goodie-goodies together for a plate of Sneaky Dee’s legendary nachos and listened in.

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