Sunday, October 12, 2008

Andrew Chin's Portfolio

2007 to present

Popping & locking will seem tame
National Post. October 11, 2008.

This is a look at COBA's Africanist drumming and dance classes put on in the Bloor and Jane area. Through this class, I learned how to do the Willie Bounce.

Arts Profile: Rick Mercer
Post City Magazines. October 2008.

This profile on Rick Mercer (Canada's most popular overtly Canadian comic) examines his past record of election comedy and the results equal a majority victory.

Cover story: Maryam Sanati
Richmond Hill Post. October 2008.

This is a profile on Chatelaine editor-in-chief, Maryam Sanati, who has helped stabilize a workplace, had her first child and tuned me on Chatelaine's progressive past.

They're sambaing in the rain
National Post.
September 13, 2008.

Last year's Brazilfest drew 8,000 people to Toronto Islands for an award-winning party. This year, rain conspired against it. Can they pull it together on Brazilian independence day?

Now Featuring Girls in Glasses!
National Post.
September 6, 2008.

Back for its second year, queer lit festival Outside the Margins took over Church Village. While John Cameron Mitchell headlined, one glasses adorning (and loving) local stole the show.

School's In
Canadian Immigrant. September 2008.

This is a look at Canada's school system and attempts to break it down for immigrant parents and children who will be encountering it for the first time.

Toronto's Hip Hop Prince Ain't No Gangsta
eptember 2008.

This is a 300-word introductory artist profile on Luu Breeze, a rapper from Scarborough who has a hot song ("Break 'em Off") and plenty of swag. He has been the subject of three other stories I've done, so I guess you can say I'm a fan.

A do-over for wallflowers
National Post. August 23, 2008.

Fake Prom was great and undeniably prom-my. Slow dancing to Richard Marx made me think about how emotional the song "Right Here Waiting" is. Good times.

Cartooning world tips its hat
National Post. August 16, 2008.

This is a story on the 4th annual Doug Wright awards for excellent work in comics that was co-founded by Seth. Chester Brown was there and I complained about being tired to Lynn Johnston mid-interview.

Pushing their buttons
National Post. August 16, 2008.

This One Inch Punch button art/trade show at the Lennox Contemporary Gallery was one of the coolest nights I've had around Ossington. I also scored a wicked Abe Lincoln button out of this.

The First Caribana
Sway. Summer 2008.

This is a first hand account of the first Caribana in 1967 as told by Charles Roach, one of the founding chairmen of the event and a prominent Canadian civil rights lawyer.

A Different Kind of Point and Shoot
National Post. July 19, 2008.

Casa Loma: Toronto's 20th century castle, Hollywood set piece and home to Sir Shawn Adams' archery drop-in program in the castle's stables. This was an extremely fun story to do.

A function for construction
National Post. July 19, 2008.

Streets are for People do the monthly Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington and they also take over an unusable street strip and turn it into an impromptu picnic (this year - Bathurst and Dupont).

Power suits and ties that bind
National Post. July 5, 2008.

For three days, I got to hang out with millionaires from around the world at literally, the Million Dollar Round Table's annual conference. A group made up solely of members of the top 1% financial service providers in the world and one that knows how to throw a wicked convention.

50 Great Summer Dates
Post City Magazines. July 2008.

It's the annual summer guide for Post City Magazines and it's a good one. It was also predominantly written by Sam Toman, whose headline writing abilities is as smooth as Hakeem Olajouwan's Dream Shake.

He's spun his last record
National Post. June 28, 2008.

For a decade, Davy Love ran THE Britpop night in Toronto. Blow-up was a blast but all good things must come to an end. Before skipping out of town, Davy threw himself a retirement party at Sneeky Dee's. Here's how it went.

The naked and the tread
National Post. June 21, 2008.

The funniest part about this story was that I had the girl from Dayton, Ohio's clothes in my backpack and was trying to track her down to return them to her. Have to be hospitable.

Serving up flair, on the rocks
National Post. June 7, 2008.

The people behind Bartender One specialize in flair-tending and each month in the summer, give people a chance to get their Tom Cruise-in-Cocktail on at the Beaches.

We'll call it the Tour de Front
National Post. June 7, 2008.

This is my coverage of the first Toronto Criterium, the city's first competitive bike race downtown in ages. It drew a huge crowd and inspired one man to ring his bell.

Jessica Simpson and Kate Hudson covet their coats
North Toronto Post. June 2008.

A graduates profile on Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner; two highschool friends that actually made their dream of starting a business together come true: their popular jacket company, Smythe.

The urban defender
North York Post. June 2008.

This is a profile on publi
c space magazine, Spacing's publisher Matthew Blackett. In addition to self-publishing his independent comic m@b, he also taught me Quark at Humber College.

Cheeseblaster extreme?
National Post. May 17, 2008.

A video game jam is a three day convergance of programmers and artists who have to create a video game from scratch in three days. This is how TO Jam 3 went.

He met 'the Walrus'
North York Post. May 2008.

When Jerry Levitan was 14, he snuck into John Lennon's hotel and talked about peace with him. Since then, he made it constitutional for Canadians to shop on Sundays; bossed Jesse Ventura around in "Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe," and has shut down Orilia's school system with an appearance by his alter-ego, Sir Jerry, psychedelic children's entertainer extraordinaire.

Artist Profile: Plants and Animals
UR. May 2008.

UR is Rogers music and technology magazine that is given to Rogers cellphone subscribers for free. As I am with Telus, I have never seen this article in my life. I don't even know what the headline is.

Making light of sport
Grand. May-June 2008.

This is a 1500-word profile on sports personality, Cabral "Cabbie" Richards. One of The Score's biggest stars, Cabbie is the host of three shows on the network. He also grew up in Cambridge, which is my hometown.

'Just write it down and it's good'
National Post. April 26, 2008.

Emily Pohl-Weary is an independent author in Toronto. A proud Parkdale resident, she started the Parkdale Street Writers program that invited local artists to lead a writing workshop. There's plans for a video making offshoot of this program for the winter.

Tall Poppy: Chris Turner
Torontoist. April 19, 2008.

This is an extensive interview with The Geography of Hope writer, Chris Turner. He also wrote a bunch of fantastic articles for Shift, including one that turned into his first book, The Simpsons Generation. We talked about some of the reasons why things aren't so bleak in the world.

These podcasters are a slam dunk
The Globe and Mail. April 18, 2008.
co-written with Sam Toman

It's crazy to get a story published in The Globe and Mail, but to get one profiling your favourite basketball podcasters is just ridiculous. Also getting to hear those podcasters talk about your story is pretty ego-stroking. Thank God they liked it.

Tall Poppy: Wes "Maestro" Williams
Torontoist. March 22, 2008.

Wes Williams is a respected actor but for most Canadians of a certain generation, he will always live on as Maestro Fresh Wes: the brash rapper that made it cool to let your backbone slide. It was a thrill meeting Wes in person and one of these photos will be appearing in a textbook soon.

Tall Poppy: Boozy Suzy
Torontoist. March 8, 2008.

Hail Boozy Suzy - Pillow Fight League champion. Shortly after this interview, Suzy retired from the sport but during this interview she was at her swaggering best. Special thanks to Ian Munroe for taking the pics.

Neighbourhood must-see TV
National Post. February 9, 2008.

Regent Park Focus is a wonderful media arts organization that runs out of Regent Park, the first social housing project in Canada that's currently in the midst of a drastic reconstruction. Their emphasis on free medi
a training for youths has been replicated throughout the city.

Chris Bosh, Thespian
Torontoist. February 6, 2008.

This is a blog post I did on Chris Bosh's awesome introduction of Blaine Harrington. It's one of my favourite stories because it somehow ended up on Hoops Hype and I noticed a suspicious use of the word "thespian" on The Score. Crazy how cocky you can be when you made it on Hoops Hype.

A nose for news
Richmond Hill Post. January 2008.

This is a profile on CBC video journalist, Steven D'Souza - a thorougly nice person who is doubly cool for admitting that his journalistic ambitions in college was to be an anchorman on TSN.

The Rump Shaker
Torontoist. December 2007 to June 2008.

For a few months, I did a weekly dance column for Torontoist profiling funky shows that were happening that week in the city. PS: Click on the links - they go to cool videos like Stevie Wonder performing on Sesame Street or an episode of Yacht Rock.

Local grad gives peace a chance with urban magazine
Bayview Post. December 2007.

Last year, urban magazine Peace celebrated its 15th anniversary. Here, I talk to its founder and publisher Harris Rosen about the magazine's story.

Just like they do it in the movies!
National Post. November 24, 2007.

This is a profile of the XSD performance martial arts program offered by Team Ryouko: a performance crew made up of professional stuntmen including John Cho's stunt double in the Harold and Kumar movies.

Cover story: Elliotte Friedman
North York Post. August 2007

Here is my first paid cover story profiling CBC sports broadcaster Elliotte Friedman. On top of being a good interviewer, he now does a fantastic job doing Raptors basketball for the CBC.

The art of the deal
Bayview Post. July 2007

This is a profile of successful real estate developer Bob Zamani. A bit of an anomoly considering that he went to Earl Haig, a prominent Toronto arts school.

The rolling stone
North Toronto Post. June 2007

This is a profile of Claire Cameron, a first-time novelist who isn't above visiting truck stops to sell her book.

Set to tackle CFL
Village Post. June 2007

Here is a profile of CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, who on-top of running the league is also the chairman of the Ontario Science Centre. What was cut from the story was the summer he spent on an Indonesian island observing primates.

A fusion reaction
North York Post. June 2007

This is a profile of autorickshaw singer Suba Sankaran, who also sings in Audioacity an all acapella 80's cover group. We did this interview at her home on the east end.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Standing Engagement: COBA Dance and Drumming Studio

Popping & locking will seem tame
Published in National Post
. [Toronto magazine, Oct. 11, 2008]

Every August, Caribana rolls into town giving the city an undeniable island feel. However, the Collective of Black Artists (COBA) dance trouple is dedicated to spreading that feeling into the winter. As Charmaine Headley, its co-founder notes, "Caribana is the season, but we want to spread it past the season."

Founded in 1993 by Headley, Junia Mason, Bakari E. Lindsay and Mosa Neshama, COBA is an acclaimed dance company dedicated to preserving African and Caribbean arts. It began as "four dancers looking to perform," Headley explains, but the collective soon discovered it would have to take on an educational role in order to get dance opportunities.

"We found that, for us to get more work, we need to educate people about what Caribbean dance is all about," she says, "because it's not perceived in the same way as ballet or modern."

Now at 14 members and one apprentice, COBA continues to put on award-winning perfromances while running a dance and drumming school. While its children's program is its mainstay, COBA offers adult and teen drop-in classes, such as beginner Caribbean dance, West African drumming and Raga funk.

At the first Raga funk class of the season, COBA member and instructor Teisha Smith leads students through dance moves including the Willie Bounce and the butterfly (plant your feet outward, bend your knees in to each other and then out in a semi-circle). With soca and dancehall-tinged reggae providing the soundtrack, Smith breaks down each move into its isolated parts, stretching students' hips and abs.

Although Smith courteously slows down and works with students individually during this 1 1/2-class, she explains that it's a different story by the end of the 12-week program. "By the end, students are able to remember the terminology," she says. "So if I call them out, they can just do it. They're also putting these dance moves together by then."

For 10- to 15-minute stretches, students dance continously learning new dance moves while giving their bodies an intense workout. It's all part of the A-feeree training mechanism developed by COBA co-founder Lindsay, which Smith says is "in everything we do."

"[Lindsay] developed it because he found there was a training method lacking that was suitable for traditional African and Caribbean dance," Headley explains. "Before, dancers used to train in ballet or modern dance before moving into Africanist dance, but for someone with no training, you're asking them to be physically schizophrenic."

Despite her dance background in ballet, tap and jazz, first time participant Leslie Stahl admits, "There were certain things I had to shake that I've never had to shake before." While she cops to feeling un-coordinated for stretches, Stahl got some new dance moves out of the class and notes, "It's a completely different type of skilled dance and a good way to jump into a different culture."

COBA offers evening dance and drumming classes Mondays through Thursdays until Dec. 15. Cost is $20 for one-class drop-in or $110 for a 10 class pass. Call 416-658-3111 for more details or visit

Link to story in National Post here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cover Story: Maryam Sanati

Published in Richmond Hill Post. [October 2008]

Chatelaine's new editor, on the magazine's fresh direction, the joys of modern motherhood and her love of all things Richmond Hill.

In the crowded realm of Canadian consumer magazines, Chatelaine sits alone at the top. With a circulation of over 550,000 and a total readership of 4.2 million, it has been the country's most profitable magazine since 2001, generating $59.2 million in revenue last year alone. As Marco Ursi, editor of the magazine industry bible Masthead says, "They are the cash cow for Rogers. They are the big money machine." And since February of this year, the person steering this monolith has been Richmond Hill's Maryam Sanati.

While being editor-in-chief of Chatelaine is notoriously demanding (Sanati is the third editor in four years), Sanati showed no strains during a phone conversation in April. "It's quiet thrilling," she said merrily. "For me, this is probably the best job in Canadian journalism and maybe the best job in North American journalism."

The buzz resonating from the magazine in the past three years would run counter to that. Staff turnover was amongst the highest in the industry and as Ursi explains, "the story for a long time has been the disorder and turmoil there."

However, it's easy to understand Sanati's optimism. Since its first issue in 1928, Chatelaine has become a staple in Canadian women's lives and has a fiery progressive past. Its first story on the birth control pill appeared on its pages sixteen years before the pill became legal in the country. Cahtelaine's stories in the 1960s and '70s on the legalization of abortion and the plight of Native Canadians made it a relevant magazine to an increasingly restless generation.

Stepping in as the magazine's eleventh editor-in-chief, Sanati admits that she feels "this pull between tradition and moving forward." However, revisiting the magazine's extensive back catalogue has made her confident that she will be able to put her own unique stamp on a Canadian institution.

"Every generation of women has issues that they deal with, and right now we are at a unique time in history because Canadian women have all the advantages of the generations that came before them," she explains. "There's nothing really holding us back from our ambitions, but the unique issue is that Canadian women are also very busy. Women are juggling so many duties and that's where we come in now - we want to explore how those pressures and challenges affect women's lives."

Her life would seem to be the definition of the unique challenges that women have to face.

Sanati describes herself as "extraordinarily lucky," and says that Chatelaine is "more interested in the lives of our readers, women who have to balance and deal with a lot of challenges that I don't directly face. My hat goes off to women who have challenges with accessibility and affordability of daycare."

If Sanati seems a bit too cool about balancing work and family, it's probably because she has spent a lifetime preparing for her current position. Describing herself as "always having my nose in a book," Sanati caught the attention of her Grade 4 teacher, in her native Iran, following a creative writing assignment.

"In a parent-teacher conference my teacher informed my mother that she thought that I was going to be a journalist," she remembers. "My mother who was determined that I should go to medical school said, 'No, she's going to be a doctor.'"

As Sanati developed her love of language, her mother quickly came around to her dream of becoming a writer. "She's so delighted with what I chose to be," she says. However, the family would soon have to deal with more pressing issues. The country was being transformed by the Ayatollah Khomeini-led Islamic Revolution of 1979.

"I remember that one night my sister and I were in the back seat of the car with our parents driving to the airport," she says. "It was a very turbulent time and people were leaving very quickly. It was just the precursor to the revolution and there were months and months of unrest and protests in the street. My parents were very concerned for their kids so they decided that we would just go awhile for a little while, and then a little while turned into forever."

The family would first move to Germany and then England. Admitting that the family "faced a lot of difficulty in Europe during the time because it wasn't a great time to be Iranian during the hostage crisis," Sanati remembers how trying her first Iranian New Year away from home was.

"It was extraordinarily difficult because there were images on TV of all this turmoil in Iran and we felt disconnected," she says. "There were certain things and food that you couldn't even get and it was a bit lonely. Kids are extraordinarily resilient but looking back, that loneliness was especially poignant to my parents."

In 1980, the Sanatis moved to Richmond Hill where they faced a completely different environment. While isolated in Europe, the Sanatis discovered that their story was just one of many multicultural stories.

"People were very welcoming and there was already a small Iranian community here so it was a sharp contrast," Sanati says. "Toronto and Canada for my parents and us was quiet heavenly."

A self-described "joiner of things," Sanati flourished in her highschool. The editor of her school's newspaper and literature collection, Sanati collected her graduating year's English prize.

After graduating from the University of Toronto, she got her start as a lowly intern at Toronto Life. By the time she left the magazine five years later, she was a senior editor about to embrace a unique challenge - becoming the deputy editor of a technology and culture magazine Shift, a Canadian publication hoping to reverse an industry convention by attempting to break into the American market with an American edition. While she says the experience of working on the redesign and launch in New York "was a fabulous experience," she soon received yet another amazing opportunity: to become Deputy Editor of the Globe and Mail's flagship Report on Business magazine.

In 2005, she took on a Deputy Editor position at Chatelaine where in the midst of internal chaos she kept her cool and was groomed for an editor position.

Although she's currently on maternity leave and spends most of her days taking her baby son to the park, where the trees monopolize his attention ("I'm not looking forward to this winter," she quips), she oversaw an ambitious redesign of Chatelaine that debuted with the magazine's April 80th anniversary issue.

"It's the biggest issue that we've ever published - well over 360 pages, which is quiet formidable in Canadian publishing," she says. "We've redesigned the magazine and it's really more of what people have come to love about Chatelaine."

In addition to bolstering the magazine's food, health, style and beauty and d
écor sections, Chatelaine has redesigned its logo, something that Ursi has noticed. "The logo looks a little bit more classic," he says. "It's closer to what they had in the '60s and '70s."

It's not just the look of that era that Sanati wants to echo
with the redesigned Chatelaine. That period under editor-in-chief Doris Anderson, who ran the magazine from 1957 to 1977, is considered the magazine's golden age and is a legacy that Sanati is mindful of.

"If you look at the magazine in the 1950s to the '70s it was breaking ground and talking about things well before it became acceptable to discuss them in polite company," she says. "It was hugely ahead of its time and that's what we want to do now with this. We have 4 million readers and that just speaks to how connected people feel to the magazine. How relevant it is."

Link to story in Post City Magazines here.

Arts Profile: Rick Mercer

Published in Post City Magazines. [October 2008]

When Stephen Harper announced the upcoming election set for Oct. 14, many politically aware Torontonians cynically wondered about its curious timing.

As the election south of the border shapes up to be a historic one full of titillating twists (Obama's reverend is crazy!) and turns (Palin's teen daughter is pregnant!), Canada's election is a little less inspiring - but one rife with comic gold.

The fall is shaping up to be a ripe time for comedic political satire, and if you are Toronto comedian Rick Mercer, host of CBC's political satire show, The Rick Mercer Report, there has never been a better time to give Torontonians exactly what they want: jokes about the people we choose to decide our fate.

"Political satire is a huge genre," Mercer says. "(Stephen) Colbert and (Jon) Stewart are on the covers of every magazine across America, but (the genre) is still bigger in Canada. It's more mainstream here; I think that's just our sensibility - Canadians are just a little bit more of political junkies."

The numbers prove it. During this election The Rick Mercer Report is expected to draw more than one million viewers.

It's not quite the audience that rockstars of satire Stewart of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report's Colbert draw. A recent poll shows they are the primary news source for over 20 per cent of North Americans between the ages of 18 and 29. But, if those guys are rockstars, Mercer is more like Rush - a longstanding, critically and commercially acclaimed Canadian entity respected around the world.

Since coming to national attention with his 1991 one-man stage show Show Me The Button, I'll Push It, (Or, Charles Lynch Must Die), Canadians have turned to Mercer for his irreverent take on the nation's politics.

In 1993, the St. Johns born Mercer, teamed up with fellow Newfoundlanders Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh and Greg Tomey to create This Hour Has 22 Minutes. The pioneering mock news program was met with shock and controversy; reactions that seem quaint in a society that now loves its fake news.

"It's hard to believe but it was actually considered really radical when we started This Hour Has 22 MInutes," the 38-year-old says. "There was even discussions on whether the CBC should even have this show because of what we were doing to news footage."

Those early critics would lose out. The show became a hit that continues to this day and it turned Mercer into a Canadian institution. A cast member until 2001, he provided many of the show's funniest moments.

Who can forget the way he rallied the country on Nov. 13, 2000, when he launched his online petition calling for a federal referendum that would force then-Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day to change his first name to Doris (a petition that had over 600,000 signatures within a week).

He also breakfasted with Jean Chrétien at Harvey's and his recurring "Talking to Americans" skit was retooled into a 2001 comedy special that drew in 2.7 million Canadian viewers. It remains the highest rated comedy special in CBC history.

With The Rick Mercer Report entering its sixth season, Mercer gets to enjoy a few perks. While headset-adorned public relations flacks scurry around dodging Alex Trebek autograph-seekers at the CBC's glitzy Fall Preview for the media this summer, Mercer is free from the chaos in his private interview room.

It's precious real estate - one reserved for him and David Suzuki. "I'm not being coy," he says. "But I really don't know what we will be doing for this year. The exciting aspect of the show, and also the terrifying aspect, is that every week, it's TV without a net. So much of it is a reaction to current events and much of it is contingent on the guest's schedule. I didn't know I was going to be swimming naked with Bob Rae until an hour before it happened."

Coming off its highest rated season (one that took him diving in a mini-submarine and competing against
Chrétien in Nintendo Wii boxing), Mercer is clearly relaxed. It could be his confidence in his fellow Report writers, a group he describes as "the best comedy writers in the country for this type of work that we do."

While he may not know the details of the upcoming season of the CBC's Tuesday night staple, he understands the basic blueprint of The Rick Mercer Report.

"Our show is an amalgam of so many different genres: physical comedy, political satire and there's a sketch element," he says. "At the same time, I'm also going out and visiting a demolition derby or jumping out a plane with (former Chief of the Defense Staff) General (Rick) Hillier, so you have to be able to write from a lot of different comedy styles."

One part of the show that remains solely his is his popular segment "Streeters," which are essentially two-minute rants. Explaining that he comes "from a place where a lot of people ranters, I just do it in shorter bursts than most people in Newfoundland." Mercer's rants are what gives him that common touch.

However, his enduring popularity as a political comedian has spread to other mediums: books (Mercer's 1998 collection of rants in Streeters was a national bestseller) and sitcoms (he starred for five years in the critically acclaimed Made in Canada). This political provocateur has turned into a figure as large as the ones he's satirizing.

That change means that he's able to lure some of the biggest names in the country into his goofy world of comedy. From convincing Conrad Black to tell viewers that, "you can call me Connie," before giving detailed instructions on pressing maple leafs with wax paper ("It's a very uplifting activity," Connie explains), to playing floor hockey with Stephen Harper's kids during a sleepover at 24 Sussex Avenue, The Rick Mercer Report has become a viabe forum for these larger than life figures to counter public perception and showcase a different side of their personalities.

"I think it's more of a challenge to make Stephen Harper look good," he explains. "I think anyone can make him look like an (jerk). He can do that on his own, too. But I would have regrets if I felt someone regretted doing the show. If I'm going to have someone on the show and convince them to do something out of their comfort zone like going repelling, I have a responsibility to make sure that works out for them moreso than me."

Happy to say that "nobody has regretted doingthe show," Mercer is aware of the paradox of working with these sacred cows that he slays so often. However, he recognizes the mutual benefits.

"People always learn something new about the person on my show," he says. "They get their opportunity to talk about whatever they want, but at the same time we are doing something unique, which allows the public to learn something that quite often, the subject matter wasn't even aware of themselves."

While some bemoan a generation that reveres its class clowns, Mercer has consistently shown that he's a man with a code. He requested that the multiple Gemini Award nominations for Talking to Americans be pulled, feeling it would be insensitive to be awarded for a program poking fun at Americans so often after the September 11 attacks. He also filmed a successful Christmas special in 2003, Christmas in Kabul, which detailed his visit to Canadian troops stationed in Afghanistan

"Coming from Newfoundland, it's hard to not know a lot of people in the Canadian Forces," he says. "They're doing a dangerous job so it's nice to do a show for them or hang out. Since the special, I've been to Afghanistan twice. I've managed to travel to various operating bases outside the main base and hang out all day. They're happy to see anybody coming in and it's one of the most personally satisfying things I've done."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

News story: Brazilfest

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine: Sep. 13, 2008]

They're sambaing in the rain
Brazil defeats Chile, bad weather on same day

The early rain couldn't damper the spirit of the thousands of attendees at Brazilfest last Sunday. Performers showcased the fifth-largest country in the world's rich cultural heritage by performing samba, maracatu and axe rhythms on Brazilian Independence Day hours before the national soccer team kicked up the celebratory mood by defeating Chile 3-0 in a World Cup qualifying game.

"It's nice to bring our culture together," said Aline Morales, minutes before taking the stage to sing and play the xequere with Maracatu Nunca Antes, her Afro-Brazilian percussion group.

Although last year's event drew 8,000 people to Toronto Island, this year's festivities were marred by the constant inclement weather. An original July date on the island was cancelled due to heavy rain, and the early Sunday showers didn't help.

"We did lose because of the rain," admitted festival director Arilda De Oliveria. "But it's much harder to have this many people here today than having [a festival] in July."

In addition to music performances, the fest featured a capoeira showcase, Brazilian food vendors and a workshop showcasing Brazilian-Canadian art by artists such as Sandra Liberato.

"It's a great cultural exchange to show Canada what Brazilians do best," Liberato said. "Because, at the same time, Brazilians feel that Canada is great in that there are so many cultures that people are interested in learning about.

Although everybody agreed that the event was a success, dancer Chris Balthasar hopes there is more Brazilian culture imported to the city.

"The community needs more sponsors to get bigger stars from Brazil to play here like [they have done] in New York," he said before noting that this is starting to happen - bossa nova icon Milton Nascimento performs at Massey Hall next month. Good tickets for the Oct. 24 concert are still available.

Link to story in National Post here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

News Story: Writing Outside the Margins Literary Festival

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, Sep. 6, 2008]

Now featuring girls in glasses!
Queer writing festival about more than just words

The early Sunday drizzle on Aug. 24 couldn't keep hundreds of attendees off Church Street and acclaimed writer/director John Cameron Mitchell rewarded those at the Writing Outside the Margins festival with his take on the slippery nature of attraction.

"The kiss is the gateway drug," the Hedwig and the Angry Inch star told the crowd. "It usually tells you what's going to follow."

Hosted by Xtra magazine, the second annual literary fest took over Church Street from Alexander to Gloucester. Authors ranging from San Francisco-based memoirist Michelle Tea to musician/first-time author Kinnie Starr graced the two stages and answered questions from the crowd after their readings.

"It's great to see the city shut down city blocks for gay people," Starr said.

With a mandate that organizer Brandon Sawh described as "celebrating and supporting the local queer artists and the arts community," the event featured the Pink Ink Open Mic stage, which provided amateur writers 15 minutes of stage time to read their works. Da Kink In My Hair scribe trey anthony participated in a roundtable discussion that explored the challenges of being a queer writer of colour.

"When you reach a certain level of success, it's always great to give back to people who are just starting up," anthony said. "It's also great to be a part of community events because, a lot of times, you're divided from what's actually happening on the ground level."

Amy Clarke was one of those people on the ground level seizing the spotlight. Performing for the first time at last year's inaugural fest, Clarke wowed the open mic stage and won the slam poetry contest.

"There are three things that I love about this festival," Clarke said between events. "Writers, queer people and all the girls in glasses who are so cute."

Link to story in National Post here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Education Feature: Understanding Canada's School System

Published in Canadian Immigrant [September Issue]

School's in!
Starting school in Canada can be intimidating for immigrant kids and parents - here are some tips to help

It's back-to-school time, and for young Canadian students it's a time to replenish their school wardrobe and get ready to see some old friends. However, for newcomers to Canada, starting a new school year can mean much more stress than just figuring out what to wear on the first day. While a majority of newcomers say they chose to immigrate to Canada in order to give their children a better education, many don't understand exactly how Canada's public school system works.

As disctrict placement administrator for the Vancouver School District, William Wong says: "A lot of the misunderstanding that immigrant parents have about Canada's school system is based on what they've gone through themselves, but Canada's system is very different."

And there is also a lot of variety between different schools and school districts within Canada, at both the elementary and secondary levels. Some high schools, for example, may follow a two-semester system, while other schools offer their programs on a September to June basis. "Even in the middle grades of elementary school, there are many different teachers, and timetables are different everyday," says Peter Dorfman, Ontario's provincial co-ordinator of the Settlement Workers in Schools program. "A student may have been very successful and confident in school in their first country, but can become discouraged and vulnerable when coming to school in Canada because the systems are very different."

Methods of teaching also differ. While many school systems around the world place a huge emphasis on memorizing information, Canada's school system values communication and analytical skills. This is important for parents who are wondering why their child is trying to analyze symbolism in Lord of the Flies instead of memorizing multiplication tables.

As a way to ease the transition for immigrant students and parents to their new school system, many cities across the country offer the Settlement Workers in Schools program. Through this government-funded program, settlement workers from local immigrant service agencies are available onsite at the school to provide parents with information that will help them integrate quickly into the school and community and to provide emotional support to new students. "Parents need to be aware that their child is often very vulnerable because some kids thing they can take advantage of new immigrant students," Dorfman says. "By talking to their child about school, parents will have a better understanding of what's going well and it helps the kid think through what's happening at school."

For high school students, one of the biggest concerns they face is paving the road to university. Many times immigrant parents tap into their own experience and expectations, and guide their child to focus on academic subjects such as science or math. In some cases, parents also feel there is a stigma about enrolling their child in an ESL course and worry that it will prevent their child's chances from getting into a good university. As Wong explains, the opposite is actually true.

"Parents often tell me that their goal is for their son or daughter to graduate from high school and go to university, but they should take it further and say they want their child to finish university," he says. "That's when you realize the importance of ESL and good English. We've had many students who are extremely strong in maths and sciences but weak in English at high school. In university, they continue to do exceptionally well in sciences and math, but if they fail first-year English twice, the university will not let them go into third year."

Of course, ESL and English classes aren't the only places for immigrant students to improve and practise their English. While courses like art, gym, woodworking and music may not be seen as highly important to immigrant parents, Wong says that these courses build communication skills.

"The best language learning is acquired when students are having fun," he says. "Sometimes I ask ESL kids in high school how much they speak English in one day and it's common to hear, 'Two minutes a day.' But if students were to involve themselves in these more participatory classes, they would enhance their opportunity to speak English tenfold."

Link to story on Canadian Immigrant here.