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McGill Music and Arts School prepares A Christmas Carol

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Arts education is an integral part of a child’s education in Europe, but when Martha Laarman moved here from Holland, she noticed a considerable lack of it and started the McGill Blvd.  Music and Arts School.Juanita DeVos helps her daughter Zoe and Claire Deis-Hudak adjust a mask for their upcoming production of A Christmas Carol. Photo By Richard Amery

“Our goal is to  provide music and arts education at affordable prices,” said Laarman, who, since forming the school in 2007, has seen enrollment grow from nine students to just over 100.

“We have students from ages 4-94, well not just 94, but it isn’t just kids,” she continued adding while the school  is located  at 260 McGill Blvd, in the basement of the Maranatha Church,  students don’t have to be affiliated with the church to be part of the program.

“In Europe, where I’m from, this is normal.  All of the students go to music lessons after normal school hours. But when I moved here,  I found that wasn’t the case, ” continued Laarman, the school’s  piano teacher, adding  the non-profit school also offers a variety of different arts related classes in the same location from eight different teachers, so parents with more than one child don’t have to run all over the city  getting them to lessons in different locations.
“There is nothing negative about  music and art,” she said.

Students, who also include adults , can take half hour music lessons or more involved two hour lessons in fine arts and drama. Music students all take part in the Royal Conservatory program.
The school  does try to produce a play each year — this year it will be Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which takes place, Dec. 10.

 Drama teacher  Juanita DeVos has been teaching  drama for 12 years and worked with Salamander Theatre For Young Audiences in Ottawa before coming to Lethbridge and joining the  McGill school. But for now she is busily helping put together the production of ‘A Christmas Carol.’
“I like the idea of surprising children with their own creativity,” DeVos said adding creativity is important in many aspects of modern life.

“Look at the sciences, you can’t make new chemicals without being creative and mathematics is very creative as well. To create a building, you need to be creative. There are many  other facets of scholastic life that benefit from creativity,” she said adding she is letted her cast of six students aged 10-14, including two of her own children, run wild with their creative ideas for this production, from costuming, creating masks and staging.
“In Dickens’ time, the arts was seen as being for the rich and the poor people suffered because of it. With cuts to arts programs today, this  is why  this story is so relevant today,” she said adding proceeds from this dinner theatre production will be going to support McGill School.


Ron James winds up tour in Lethbridge with entertaining show

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I have to rave about stand -up comedian Ron James’ disjointed but hilarious Sunday show, which wound up his current tour at the Yates Theatre, Dec. 5.

 He started off slowly with a long bit about aging and the impact it has on the body,a dviisng the young members of the yaouduence, that this was a look into their futures.

He joked about  local tourist attractions like Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump and writing on Stone Provincial park where he was planning on visiting Monday. Then he made some movie references and cracked some other jokes which he didn’t think were working as he didn’t think people were laughing enough. Though I wanted more closure on some of his more enrapturing stories. So I was a little frustrated when he seemed to stop mid set to embark on another train of thought, then returned to the original train. He boarded so many different  trains of thought, that I fell off about two or three stops back, but then that is  part of the Canadian comedy icon’s charm.

 He hit his stride with a routine about the frustrations of trying to get his iPhone fixed and dealing wth tech services people. Then he randomly dropped in a  line about a Brazilian shave, then got back on the train about technology. He slightly adjusted his familiar routine about  dealing with computer repairs for this  routines. He touched on a bit of politics, both Canadian and American, but didn’t stay there for long.

 He wound up by revisiting some of his more familiar routines about growing up on Cape Breton with his Newfoundland dad,  and meeting his first American kids, then another hilarious bit about  golf courses being built in bear country.
He wound up a brilliant show by thanking everyone for coming out on a Sunday and the local media for welcoming him.

— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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Ron James — a man of a million words and a million laughs

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Ron James is a smart man who uses a lot of million dollar words in his comedic routines. More than likely you’ve seen his stand up routine on the Comedy Channel and on his popular new CBC television show.

But more importantly, he is a funny man who will be bringing the funny back to the Yates centre for two shows, Dec. 4-5.Ron James comes to the Yates Centre, Dec. 4-5. Photo Submitted
“I just flew into Calgary and now I’m wrapped up in blankets protecting myself from this Venusian  cold,” noted James in an early morning interview during a November cold snap, kicking off an amicable  half hour conversation covering everyone from  the sold out crowd bundled up and shivering through the CFL Western Finals, the fall of the American dream, to how complacent Canadians are in their deference to authority, to why Bob Saget can fill concert halls and a lot f Canadian comedians can’t.

“ I went to a public school and then got a bachelors degree in history from university. I graduated with a  BA in history and a minor in binge drinking. But university is also where I learned how to communicate as well started my belief that I could be an actor,” he said adding he honed his comedic craft with the renown Second City improv comedy troupe in Toronto.

“I learned that if I was going to be a success, I’d have to do it on my own, not as part of some group,” he said adding in 1993, he also spent three years in Los Angeles  working on a sitcom that ended up failing, but it  gave him plenty of grist for the comedic mill, which was incorporated into his first comedy special.

“ I just like how language trips off your tongue. I make observations. But you always try to remember what the audience is paying for — and that’s laughter,” he continued.

“I like to tell stories, but  what you don’t realize  is how well crafted they are because you lose yourself in the story,” he continued adding he loves coming out west, mainly because one of his first comedy specials was “Quest For the West.”
“It’s always fun going to Alberta  and talking about Tories. Alberta is only province where the only opposition to a conservative party is another conservative party,” he observed adding he was impressed with how many people bundled up to go to the Western finals CFL football game.


Spring Awakening explores timeless subject matter

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While times have changed a lot since 1891, the basic issues facing teenagers  have not. That is the Director Jay Whitehead shows a model of the Spring Awakening set. Photo by Richard Amerymessage behind The University of Lethbridge production of Frank Wedekind’s play “Spring Awakening,” which takes place at the University of Lethbridge Theatre, Nov. 23-27.

“It’s very creepy,” described director Jay Whitehead noting it is basically about a group of 12-14 year olds coming of age and who are experiencing their sexual awakening through  exploring their bodies and each others’ while the adults, parents and teachers  do their best to prevent it with disastrous results.

“Our concept is very surreal,” Whitehead said, adding the stage is dominated by a gigantic 20 foot chair. It, along with the extensive use of masks, adds to the surreal aura of the production.

“We have two deaths in the play. Two young people die because of the way this has been manifested and another one of the characters ends up in prison,” he continued adding the only characters who nothing tragic happens to, is the gay couple.

Whitehead said the play, written in 1891 was way ahead of it’s time. It was so controversial it wasn’t even staged for the first time until over a decade later.
“I like plays with a social conscience. I like plays that allow people to think. I just liked the drama of the subject matter and the  bravery of the characters,” Whitehead continued adding though  it is a drama, he has modernized the production with new music and choreography  by New West Theatre veteran Jessica Ens. He has also punched up the comedic aspects of the play.

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