Brampton or Bust!
We missed the bus from Union, but we made it to Yorkdale with twelve minutes left before the bus would leave, bound for Brampton. My travelling companion and tour guide for this short visit to Brampton, Ontario was my friend Becky who had lived there her entire life before moving to Toronto two years ago.
When I told her I'd be heading to her hometown for the Indie Arts Festival to sell zines and operate lights for the Singing Saw Shadow Show it was the first she'd ever heard of the five year old event.
It was a short walk to the Heritage Theatre from the Brampton bus station and we were pointed towards the lounge next to the lobby of the theatre where we would be setting up our table. Becky was selling brown Valentine's day cards with white lace hearts on them, and I was selling CDs of recordings made at various parties I'd thrown over the past year.
For the most part it felt like any other zine fair; disorganized, confused, timid and very friendly. In fact, this zine fair was considerably more friendly due to the presence of, yes, Friendly Rich.
bounded into the room in a brown suit, short beard and black rimmed glasses and began introducing himself to the zinesters behind their tables. He shook my hand and lived up very well to his title.
His hair was thick and messy and looked as though he'd gone on a long road trip with his head out the window just after getting out of the shower. He spent most of the evening bustling about the building making sure things were going well and encouraging everyone in everything they were doing.
I was doing double duty as a zine seller and Shadow Show collaborator that night and so moved back and forth between the zine room and backstage, where all the hard work was happening. At about 8:30 James Anderson, of the Saws, found me and I left Becky to mind our table as I helped prepare for our set.
Knock knock (who's there) Comedy! hit the stage first with their usual deadpan delivery of awkward chuckles and moustaches (only Katie Crown seems to be clean shaven), and continued as MCs for the rest of the evening along with the Official BIAF mascot Curtains, the puppet.
The Singing Saws and I waited backstage, behind our all-obscuring white curtain while Aidan Baker performed a short set of brooding atmospheric music. He had a guitar and kept bending over during the performance, but that was all I could make out from the silhouette cast by the spotlight. It was a nice warm-up before the wonderful singing saws.
Now, I don't mind calling the Singing Saws wonderful, because I am not a musician with the group. I merely wave lights around and project film strips during the performance, casting shadows and shapes onto the big sheet which the band plays behind. What I do is simply inspired by the Singing Saws and therefore my criticism is indeed fair and objective. Though now that I'm busy making shadows it's hard for me to simply enjoy the music.
But the music is a very important part of the show and the anonymity of performing behind a sheet allows me to overhear spectator's comments. One girl referred to the music being "like a spaceship". With five or six musical saws ringing in the darkness while a sousaphone blorbs and flabs out a melody they certainly have that connotation behind them.
After our set we sat down for the three short films of the evening: "In Sin" by Christopher McKay, "Precious Little Tiny Love" by Allyson Mitchell, and "A Toetally Solefull Feeture Pedsintation" by Martha Colburn. Each was an example of low budget stop motion animation at it's best.
The first was a simple story about the doomed love of a monster and an Angel in a beautiful garden played out by plasticine creatures.
The second film was four shots of small toy animals nestled in the grass playing on the screen simultaneously while a sweet young musician sings about how she doesn't want to eat animals, because "animals don't eat me".
The third was a bizarre and frenetic animation of paper cutouts similar to the work of Terry Gilliam for Monty Python, but with ridiculous zooms, pans and shaky excitement. There was no story to speak of, just a long series of unlikely instances of foot worship followed by equally unlikely scenes of foot destruction. It was hilarious and brutal, and brilliantly executed.
At that point an intermission was called and I felt I should return to my table and relieve Becky of her responsibilities. I could scarcely make out the no-doubt wonderful performances by The Lollipop People, Hal Niedzviecki and The Phonemes, but by then the show was deeply in progress and no one but the zinesters were hanging around the zine tables. Many of us were packing up and either heading into the theatre with our complimentary tickets, or just going home. Becky and I decided to check out the rest of the show before leaving.
We walked in on The Jezebels: Ottawa's Punk Rock Aerobic Troupe in mid routine. Three girls in faux-eighties workout ensembles danced and excercised to punk rock music and encouraged us all to do the same, but most of us were hesitant.
The Knock Knock (who's there?) Comedy! troupe seemed to be tiring and at this point in the show they were coming out only one at a time in order to verbally spar with Curtains the puppet. It was weak, but kept the audience stimulated while the next band set up.
Deep Water Cooling System, featuring Sook-Yin Lee, Dale Morningstar, a harp, various noise making apparatus and a drum set rocked out and made noise for a while then demanded we all take off our shoes and place them on the edge of the stage. Their set seemed a little self-indulgent, and I thought that if they were going to be doing experimental, improvised music they might engage the audience a little more than to demand they remove their shoes.
By then it was after 11 and Becky and I would be staying over at her parent's house that night. She was getting tired and I hadn't heard very exciting things about the final element of the evening's entertainment, a screening of Odessa Filmworks' "Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace" (from the people who brought us Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter). So I thanked Friendly Rich for his hospitality and we caught a cab home in the thick, thick fog.
The next day Becky's mother drove us back to the Bus Station and I was able to take in my surroundings a little better. A long, straight, four lane road took us away from their subdivision, through other subdivisions, closed in with high, beige noise barriers until we finally broke through into a grey, sprawling plain of strip malls. We drove past a Howard Jonsons which had once been the slimiest hotel in town and then deep into downtown where we were greeted by empty store fronts and listless youth.
The Brampton Indie Arts Festival is a great thing, there's no doubt about it, but it seems that it's through all the attention on CBC radio and in newspapers that it does it's best boostering. But it's not just Brampton who benefits -- I think that as long as there are people like Friendly Rich to get people excited about doing things in the suburbs there will be others like Friendly Rich who get other people excited about doing things in the suburbs. It's a year long battle to make things interesting in the satellites of Toronto. I don't know if we'll ever get cities like Brampton, Mississauga, or Oshawa to stop their sprawling ways, but if residents there are convinced to stay there and make their art and do their exciting things in their hometowns instead of leaving and taking their talent with them, then maybe life will get better out there.
Afterall, aren't fringes prettier with beads on them?
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