Mark Leiren-Young

Shylock review: Edmonton Sun

Posted by on 12:05 am in News and Reviews, Shylock, Theatre | 0 comments

EDMONTON FESTIVALS Review Fringe 2015: Shylock BY COLIN MACLEAN, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: THURSDAY, AUGUST 20, 2015 09:59 AM MDT | UPDATED: THURSDAY, AUGUST 20, 2015 10:01 AM MDT Shylock Photo by Gordon F. McKenzie Garneau Theatre It is sad to think that the issues of political correctness actor John Huston brought up in his SHYLOCK when it first played here a decade or so ago, have not only continued but have blossomed in our time like a malignant flower. The work is much updated and remains a riveting piece of thought-provoking theatre that easily bears repeated viewing. It appeals on many levels and although it is obviously built on the Shakespearean character from The Merchant of Venice Huston’s play (written by Mark Leiren-Young) is a passionate and articulate plea for art and free speech. When we first see Shylock he is in full Elizabethan garb. His nose is pronounced and hawk-like, his voice a whine and his stance that of a man used to grovelling. His hair falls in lank locks. Shylock intones the famous speech of the usurer, “If you prick me do I not bleed?” He coldly demands his “pound of flesh.” Back in 1603, when Shakespeare wrote the play, the attitude towards Jews was harshly anti-Semitic. When creating Shylock, the Bard wrote to the conventions of the time. It is a view that makes many uncomfortable today and that provides much of the basis of Huston’s play. Actor John Davies (Huston) has dared to play the character the way Shakespeare originally wrote him. It sets off a fire-storm in the politically correct crowd. The actor is attacked in the press. He is called a traitor to his (Jewish) roots. Protesters call his interpretation a “wretched piece of pro-Nazi propaganda.” There are letters to the editor and petitions on the internet. In his defense Davies thunders, “Isn’t it the job of theatre to provoke you and your job to figure out what it’s all about?” The run of the play is cancelled. What follows is something of a rant but Huston is intense, committed and has such a command of material and audience (and is so entertaining) that not for a second are you bored. John Huston is an actor who sets the bar very high for one-man shows. 4.5/5...

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Crossing the Line: You Can’t Say That!

Posted by on 5:15 am in comedy, Magic Secrets, News and Reviews, Shylock | 0 comments

Mark Leiren-Young’s Southam lecture on Comedy, Censorship & Sensitivity in the 21st Century In 1991, I found myself in the middle of an international free speech firestorm after CBC radio’s flagship show Morningside censored my radio drama, Dim Sum Diaries . This Tuesday, almost 25 years later, CBC radio broadcasts my 2015 Southam lecture: You Can’t Say That!? Comedy, Censorship and Sensitivity in the 21st Century. Ideas has combined the lecture I delivered at the University of Victoria last October with an interview with host Paul Kennedy. They’ve called the episode Crossing the line. The lecture is all about comedy and context – so I can’t imagine any earnest CBC or NPR radio listeners taking anything I say out of context – especially since topics include: – How and why the world started complaining about jokes (I blame the Jews). – Who really told the first 9-11 jokes (first responders). – And where I draw the line on what we can joke about (spoiler alert: there is no line). Here’s the official CBC description: CROSSING THE LINE When does a joke go too far and actually cross ‘the line’? And what defines the line: individual taste, or social convention? Writer and performer Mark Leiren-Young knows something about drawing, and stepping over, the line. He won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2009, and delivered the 2014 Southam Lecture at the University of Victoria on this very subject. This episode features excerpts from that talk and his conversation with host Paul Kennedy. And here’s a link to the podcast version on iTunes....

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Dirty Books

Posted by on 7:12 am in Hockey Nut in Canada, Song Lyrics and Poems | 0 comments

Dirty Books

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Shylock review: Winnipeg Free Press

Posted by on 12:47 am in News and Reviews, Shylock, Theatre | 0 comments

In this intelligent, provocative, powerful one-man show, Toronto-based John D. Huston does masterful work as Jon Davies, a Jewish actor playing the moneylender Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The contentious production has just been shut down over accusations of anti-Semitism, and Davies holds a “talkback session” with the audience to defend his work. With a script by Mark Leiren-Young, the 90-minute work is packed with ideas about history, identity, censorship and the nature of art. As Davies speaks about the ways Shylock has been interpreted — as comic buffoon, as pitiable victim, as bloodthirsty villain — he marshals difficult intellectual arguments, while struggling emotionally with his own moments of uncertainty. Raising some controversial points, the play could probably use its own talkback session. (Hey, maybe objecting to white guys playing Othello isn’t just prissy political correctness!) But if this work sometimes feels profoundly uncomfortable, that, surely, is the point. — Alison Gillmor...

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Prolific writer chronicles big trouble in little city

Posted by on 12:33 am in News and Reviews, Stampede Queen | 0 comments

Prolific writer chronicles big trouble in little city By Tom Hawthorn (From the Globe and Mail, Nov. 26, 2008) Mark Leiren-Young finds trouble. Or, rather, trouble finds him. He writes a radio play exploring racial attitudes and is accused of racism. He writes a stage play about Shakespeare and censorship and anti-Semitism and not everyone gets the point. He writes political satires, and we all know how satire is a universal language of respect and understanding. So, you might be forgiven for thinking he has adopted as his first name the adjective controversial, as in “controversial playwright,” or “controversial political satirist.” Mr. Leiren-Young is a onetime reporter, so he knows “controversial” is newspaper code word for, “This is a nuanced and complicated issue about which I will not pass judgment and besides that single word does a lot of work on my behalf and might even get this story on the front page.” He did not spend too long in the low-paying ghetto of the community newspaper before finding less lucrative work pounding out plays and scripts. Happily, he also has many gigs writing for television, which he composes on his preferred midnight-to-dawn shift. And his first book is to be launched tonight at Biz Books in Vancouver. The book is titled Never Shoot a Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo. It is published by Heritage House in paperback and costs $19.95. It is going to be controversial. It should have been titled Never Shoot a Smart-aleck Writer. Mr. Leiren-Young – and after this let’s dispense with the double-barrelled surname and go with “Hyphen,” with which he was tagged at his student newspaper – is fair, honest and accurate in describing the good citizenry of the Cariboo. Which is to say it might not be such a good idea to stand behind him should he ever again visit Williams Lake, as the city comes across as the Wild West mixed with Capone-era Chicago with a soupçon of Jim Crow Deep South segregation and an unsavoury dash of perversion. And that’s just in the first chapter. Hyphen is not without sympathy for the Cariboo. “Apparently I had the only car in town,” he writes. “Everyone else had a pickup.” He is surprised to find that the annual stampede not only requires Western ware but that the edict is enforced. The long-haired, theatre-loving, big-city environmentalist is shocked to discover Ducks Unlimited is a hunter’s group. Soon after graduating from the University of Victoria with a bachelor of fine arts in theatre and creative writing, Hyphen is lured by penury to the Williams Lake Tribune. He arrives in town after midnight, stopping at a gas bar and convenience store, the only business still open. Three police cruisers are parked out front and he figures this is the local hangout. Instead, he learns the joint has suffered yet another armed robbery. The young female clerk pronounces Williams Lake to be the crime capital of the province. He quotes her in his debut story. She says she did not give him permission (although she helpfully spells her name). The police are unhappy that he has not waited for their press release. “The cops wanted to shoot me, my bosses thought I was a Bolshevik, and a local lawyer warned me that some people...

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Finding the Funny

Posted by on 6:05 am in comedy, MLY Musings, News and Reviews | 0 comments

A guest post on writing for Gail Anderson-Dargatz  Being gloomy is easier than being cheerful. Anybody can say, “I’ve got cancer” and get a rise out of a crowd. But how many of us can do five minutes of good stand-up comedy?” – PJ O’Rourke If you check any personal ad or dating site the first thing on everybody’s wish list is “sense of humour.” Okay, sometimes the first thing is “non-smoker” but still… For most people “sense of humour” is a “must” quality in someone they’re looking to spend time with. It’s also a decent way to convince a reader or audience member to spend time with a story, play, movie or article. How do you find the funny? And how do you make it part of your writing? Here are seven potentially deadly suggestions because as everyone knows… dissecting humour is like dissecting a frog. When you try to put them back together the joke and the frog forget why they crossed the road. Don’t get angry, get even. Start with whatever makes you want to cry, scream, kick a hole in your TV screen or toss your laptop out the window. If something makes you angry then you’ve got something to say about it — whether it’s the government, bureaucracy or the snooty barista who gave you whole milk when you asked for soy. Ignore Thumper’s parents. Remember when Thumper’s mother told her little rabbit “if you can’t say something nice to say, don’t say nothing at all?” That’s why the hunter shot Bambi’s mother. He was a big Lenny Bruce fan. When I was a kid I used to love a series by MAD Magazine — Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. The MAD cartoonists would show you what people really wanted to say when someone asked pretty much anything from “how are you doing” to “would you like fries with that.” Their imagined answer that most sane people might think but never say… probably funny. Sweat the small stuff. I’m a huge fan of satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and I love the righteous, articulate anger of Lewis Black but for sheer style points I’d point new writers to “humourists” with a lighter touch like Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck – who found the funny in sweating the small stuff. Here’s a Bombeck line from 2007: “Just think of all those women on the Titanic who said, ‘No, thank you’ to dessert that night. And for what?” Sometimes even voicing frustration equals funny. Jerry Seinfeld has made a career out of crafting “don’t you just hate it when… “ moments. Of course, Seinfeld does craft those moments. But in writing… start by making the statement, then work it until you get the laugh. It’s never too soon. The closest thing I’ve ever heard to a mathematical formula for humour is that it equals tragedy plus time. In the age of Twitter there’s no such thing as “too soon” — although when someone groans at a joke feel free to use “too soon” as a generic “get out of humour jail” free card. When someone even remotely famous dies there will be a comic spin put on that death by late night comics, topical stand-ups and everyone who likes to crack wise on social media...

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Mark Leiren-Young talks Magic Secrets with The National Post

Posted by on 5:41 am in News and Reviews | 0 comments

Mr. Dress-Up: Mark Leiren-Young chronicles his days in costume By Vanessa Farquharson June 3, 2013  Mark Leiren-Young’s very first assignment as a costumed entertainer was to dress up as a gorilla, make his way to a radio DJ’s birthday party in the conference room of a downtown Vancouver hotel, then start uttering an assortment of rude noises and sniffing people’s pant legs. “People go crazy when you sniff their pant legs,” said his boss, at the time. “Oh, and if you see a bald guy, rub his head.” He did as he was told – it was true, everyone went nuts for the pants-sniffing routine – and was approved for many more gigs with the now-defunct Big One Fantasy, some of which were successful (a group of Russian tourists stranded at Canadian customs adored the bear costume), many of which were total failures (an eight-foot-tall bunny is not a good present for an uptight lawyer). These experiences, and others, are recounted in Leiren-Young’s new memoir, Free Magic Secrets Revealed (Harbour, $26.95), which centres on the years he spent as an awkward 17-and 18-year-old in the early ’80s, performing rock ‘n’ roll magic shows, chasing a girl named Sarah Saperstein, and trying to make some extra cash in whatever way he could, including playing dress-up. Although his full-time job these days is critiquing live performances – he’s a theatre columnist for the Vancouver Sun – Leiren-young vividly remembers the brief period he spent on the other side, as a sort-of actor, and his anecdotes from these times within various animal costumes might just be enough to land the West Coast writer a second Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour (he won the first in 2009 with Never Shoot a Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo).  Those who’ve read the essay by American humorist David Sedaris about his brief stint working as Crumpet the Christmas elf at Macy’s department store will appreciate the very similar tales of public humiliation in Leiren-Young’s book, told from the safe distance of adulthood. I also worked in malls at Christmas, but I wasn’t allowed to be an elf because I was too tall,” the author says. “Santa was out of the question because I was too thin, so I was always stuck in the reindeer costume. But I actually loved it because the reindeer wasn’t allowed to talk, it just had to be cute.” Other favourite costumes of his included the bear, the gorilla and Frosty the Snowman. There were also two bunnies – Little Rabbit Foo Foo and the Easter Bunny – that were fun to wear and usually elicited a positive response. The absolute worst outfits, however, were the chicken and the Valentine. “The Valentine was the worst because it was the only costume where you had to show your face,” Leiren-Young says. “It was this really cheap, valet-style outfit with green tights, a big heart, and a propellor beanie. I’ve got a really high humiliation threshold and that passed it.” As to the chicken: “There’s no logical explanation for it, but people love to beat up chickens. If I have one word of advice for aspiring costumed entertainers: don’t dress up as poultry.” While most of the Big One Fantasy jobs were straightforward – show up, act a little crazy, then leave -plenty of problem situations arose,...

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The Book that Changed Your Life (for The Georgia Straight, 2013)

Posted by on 4:52 am in News and Reviews | 0 comments

WORD VANCOUVER The book that changed your life: Mark Leiren-Young This year, the Word on the Street festival returns with a new moniker—Word Vancouver—and a hugely varied schedule that runs at venues around town from September 25 to 29. As part of the runup, we asked some of the writers on the bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which book left deep impressions early on? Which one overhauled the way they see and think about the world, and set them on a path to a literary life? Here’s what Mark Leiren-Young told us. He’s the author of the Leacock Medal–winning Never Shoot a Stampede Queen, as well as his latest memoir, Free Magic Secrets Revealed. He’ll be reading from his work at 4 p.m. on September 29, in the fest’s Canada Writes Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. When I was in high school I had a crush that ruled my world. I scheduled my life so I’d have a chance at bumping into the girl of my dreams, I took advanced-credit summer-school courses in subjects I barely understood because she was a grade ahead of me. And when I saw her reading a thin paperback with a shiny red cover I had to ask what it was.  She told me about “Ice Nine” and the end of the world, before finishing with: “It’s funny. You’ll like it.” Then she walked off to meet her Neanderthal date du jour. I only got the book out of the library so I could discuss it with her, but despite the fact that I’ve always been a painfully slow reader I devoured it in one night. The next day, I went to the school library and took out every other Kurt Vonnegut book they had. Until Cat’s Cradle I thought writing was about showing off your vocabulary. The stories I wrote in Grade 8 had more syllables in each word than this entire paragraph. Cat’s Cradle was responsible for me becoming a writer. It was also responsible for me losing my A in Grade 10 English because my teacher declared all my post-Vonnegut writing “too creative”. So it goes....

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Mark Leiren-Young talks about The Green Chain with Ian Ferguson @ The Tyee

Posted by on 4:00 am in Movies, News and Reviews | 0 comments

Leiren-Young and His ‘Green Chain’ Filmmaker discusses BC premiere of his movie on love of forests. A Trees and Us podcast. By David Beers, 6 Mar 2009, Mark Leiren-Young has been talking about trees for The Tyee’s Trees and Us Series since September, 2007 — interviewing a mix of people about the fate of our forests. The inspiration for this podcast series was Leiren-Young’s award-winning feature film, The Green Chain, which he wrote, directed and produced and which opens March 6th at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas in Vancouver. The Green Chain explores seven different perspectives on a dying logging community and features some of Canada’s most acclaimed actors including Gemini Award winner Babz Chula, Leo Award winner (for her role in The Green Chain) Jillian Fargey (Mount Pleasant), Tricia Helfer and Tahmoh Penikett from TV’s Battlestar Galactica, Genie and Gemini award winner August Schellenberg (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee; The New World), Genie and Gemini award winner Brendan Fletcher (RV, 88 Minutes) and Scott McNeil (Sleeping With Strangers). Leiren-Young’s goal for the movie was to spark a dialogue about the issues facing today’s forests and he saw the podcast as a way to expand that dialogue. For this Trees and Us podcast, Ian Ferguson, co-author of the bestseller, How to Be a Canadian, and author of the Leacock Award winning, Village of the Small Houses, sparks a dialogue with Mark about creating controversies, winning awards in foreign languages and actors who don’t seem to be acting. For the audio interview click here...

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Mark Leiren-Young Talking Theatre with One Big Umbrella

Posted by on 3:35 am in News and Reviews, Theatre | 0 comments

Umbrella Talk with Mark Leiren-Young (2008) What do you drink on opening night? My addiction is Coca Cola. The real thing… and when it’s time for an opening I’m not goin’ near none of that Coke Zero, Diet Coke stuff. Who would direct the coolest production of one of your plays? My dream director? Orson Welles… Living director… If I wrote the right piece I think it’d be a blast to play with Blake Brooker. Heck, if I wrote the wrong piece I think it’d be cool to work with Blake. I’m always inspired by his work. All time favourite director/mentor, John Juliani. What scares you? What can’t you write about? I’m not a big fan of heights I’m not sure there’s anything I can’t write about, just stuff I haven’t written about yet. What do you want to write about that you haven’t yet? Too many things to mention and I worry that if I do mention them in an interview I’ll never write them. I’ve got a “to do” list that includes at least a half dozen plays I’d love to write. If someone was to write a play about your life, what genre would it be? (eg. comedy, tragedy, melodrama, horror) I hope it’d be a comedy. How do you deal with praise? With criticism? Having been a reviewer it’s tough to take reviews seriously except in terms of how they’re going to impact on ticket sales. I used to think anyone who said they didn’t read their reviews was full of it. So I’m sure some people will assume I’m full of it when I say that I no longer read every review of my work. Where would you like your work to be produced? Everywhere! Okay… If you want me to be more specific I’d love to see Shylock done in New York and at the two Stratfords… But only with the right actor. Ditto my new play Yorick… Where do you write? Pen or keyboard? When inspiration hits I’ll write with charcoal, lipstick or crayon if I have to. But to seriously work on a project its gotta be my laptop… What would you like academics to write about your work/play in 50 years? How much they enjoyed the production of it they saw the night before… What inspires you? Life. People. The news. A lot of my writing tends to be inspired by something that really pisses me off or stories I think people should be talking/thinking about… But I write different pieces for all sorts of different reasons....

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