• About ALERT

    February 8, 2018 by Claire Calnan

    Written by Micahel Kras & Sunil Puri

    ALERT (or, Artistic Leadership and Entrepreneurial Training) is a creative producing training program, hosted by the Hamilton Fringe, for young artists and administrators who aspire to be artistic leaders in Hamilton’s burgeoning cultural scene. Each year, a small pool of people is accepted into the program for intimate, hands-on training in a number of essential skills like grant writing, budgeting, community engagement, marketing & social media strategy, curation, fundraising, and more.

    For the past three years ALERT has brought together a diverse group of young people committed to making art in Hamilton. Presented here are the perspective and experience of two of this year’s members.  

    For Michael Kras it started in his third and final year of theatre school:

    I thought of myself as a Capital A Actor, making it through the whole conservatory training thing and preparing myself for what I was sure was going to be an immediate and fruitful career. But half of our final year of training wasn’t about technique anymore. It was about producing skills.

    We were told we’d need those skills. That the work wouldn’t always, or ever, come to us and we’d need to be prepared to make our own if we really wanted to keep doing this whole theatre thing after graduation. They were serious. I was dismissive. Of course I’d get hired out of school! I was a good actor and a good playwright, right? And good actors go to Stratford or Shaw Festival! Good playwrights get programmed by theatres of all sizes! FOREVER!

    Then I left school. And, surprise surprise, Shaw Festival wasn’t calling. Stratford didn’t mail me a contract. I found out it’s wicked difficult to get a theatre company to actually READ your play, let alone produce it. And all at once, I thought: “Damn. They were right. I’m gonna have to do some of this myself.”

    Sunil Puri’s relationship with theatre in the city began as a Fringe volunteer:

    I have always been interested by theatre, and by art in general but I do not have any professional artistic training.  While I had the opportunity to take a number of litterature classes in university that taught me to think deeply and critically, they did not give me any skills to produce my own form of creative expression.  

    I was first introduced to the Fringe Festival when I moved to Hamilton five years ago.  Looking to make new connections in what I considered then to be a “big city” I volunteered with as many cultural organisations as I could.  I was immediately struck by the community of excited and engaged artists that surrounded the festival, and the very capable leadership behind the production of the festival.  

    As I settled in the city I had the chance to work a number of administrative jobs for artists and arts organizations (including the Fringe Festival), all the while I hungered to create.  In partnership with a close friend, Jenny Vasquez, I began to put my creative ideas onto paper, but still lacked the skills and professional context to be able to confidently produce work.  

    That’s where ALERT comes in.

    Through the ALERT program a series of workshops are led by industry professionals and leaders in their respective fields. As a central, practical piece of this training, each member is tasked with heading a component of producing Frost Bites, the Hamilton Fringe’s site-specific sister festival that happens every winter. You not only leave with the theoretical training from workshops, but the practical skills learned and earned through working tangibly on a legitimate arts and culture event in the city. Furthermore, the program offers a place for each of the members to learn from one another’s diverse backgrounds and experiences.  

    Kras explains: When I studied at my particular theatre school, I didn’t realize at the time how lucky we were to get some producing and business training alongside our acting and creation work. In fact, my school is one of the only ones that actively teaches it. Many trained actors are shoved out of their conservatories with three years of technique worked into their bodies and voices, and told “Go!” without having the first clue where to start.

    From there, you face the reality of the theatre industry: you can have talent and drive to spare, but in an oversaturated and underfunded career field, major institutions only have so many resources and opportunities to give out. The reality is, if you want to work frequently in theatre, chances are you’ll have to make much of that work yourself.

    Frankly, in Hamilton, theatre has fallen way behind in the arts and culture boom. Programs like ALERT are there to train our city’s next generation of theatre professionals to help it catch up. It starts with working on Frost Bites (which is going to be loaded with awesome art invigorating Barton Village and you should come check it out), and, hopefully, moves beyond into the creation and nurturing of a robust professional theatre scene in our wonderful, scrappy city of Hamilton. We need a theatre scene that can allow artists to live here, make their art here, and actually make their living doing it.

    That’s a long time off, still. But the training ALERT offers to young artists who are planning to take the community by storm means that it’s far from impossible.

  • Interview with Emma Rush

    July 6, 2017 by Bud Roach

    This week, Hamilton Arts Council Board member and Hammer Baroque Artistic Director Bud Roach presents the next installment of his new blog video series. This in-depth conversation features Emma Rush from Guitar Hamilton which hosts the 7th Hamilton International Guitar Festival & Competition from July 7-9, 2017.

  • Opera Returns to Hamilton!

    June 28, 2017 by Boris Brott

    (This is the third in a series of blog posts by the Brott Music Festival in celebration of the Festival’s 30th anniversary this year which kicks off in June.)

    Brott Music Festival has been performing staged Opera and PopOpera productions since 2004 as part of their nine-week summer festival, BrottOpera was officially founded on January 13th, 2014. The artistic mission of BrottOpera is to be the destination performing opera organization that entertains, educates and enriches Hamilton and its environs to be driven by both traditional and cutting-edge opera programming, grassroots partnerships which will stimulate new audiences and partner with other community organizations.

    Scene from Marriage of Figaro [Photo: Bob Hatcher]

    Following two successful years BrottOpera is now entering its third season. Each year has consisted of a PopOpera – an evening of favourite opera arias – as well as a fully staged opera; the past two seasons have seen performances of Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. This year will again include a PopOpera (July 6th) as well as a production of Bizet’s Carmen (July 13th) directed by Patrick Hansen, who is currently the Director of Opera Studies at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

    Set in Seville around the year 1830, the opera deals with the love and jealousy of Don José, who is lured away from his duty as a soldier and his beloved Micaëla by the gypsy factory-girl Carmen, whom he allows to escape from custody. He is later induced to join the smugglers with whom Carmen is associated, but is driven wild by jealousy. This comes to a head when Carmen makes clear her preference for the bull-fighter Escamillo. The last act, outside the bull-ring in Seville, brings Escamillo to the arena, accompanied by Carmen, there stabbed to death by Don José, who has been awaiting her arrival.

    Scene from Marriage of Figaro [Photo: Bob Hatcher]

    Carmen was a one-of-a-kind outlier of an opera when it was written. It shocked the French audiences with its onstage violence. It was also not an actual "opera" per se, because its form was really that of a musical: the story is told in both dialogue and in music. Formally much of it is Italian grand opera, but it is sung in French, set in Spain, and some of the music is based on Cuban dance rhythms (the Habanero, for example). Very advanced for its time! “It is the best example of "verismo" opera I can think of until Puccini comes along with La bohème or Leoncavallo's Pagliacci” says director Patrick Hansen. 

    This Carmen will be set in the 1930s Spanish Civil War - a war Franco eventually won. Carmen's story will be told through that lens of war, rebellion, the quest for freedom against oppression -- the very things that Carmen is all about! Carmen herself is 100% rebel; she fights against the status quo, she fights to be taken seriously as an individual and not just some gypsy who works in a cigarette factory, she smuggles arms for the war, she loves who she wants and when she wants. She and her gypsy friends are smugglers fighting in the resistance to overthrow the political structure in place and defend themselves against the coming Franco oppression. Oppression is everywhere in the opera. Don Jose, Morales, and Zuniga are all soldiers in the regime who simultaneously oppress the people but also want to be part of their culture (namely enjoying themselves at Lilas Pastia's place and the Bull Ring). Micaela represents the oppression that arises from the religious patriarchy -- (come home and marry a good girl, have a family, and forget everything else.) Escamillo represents the machismo oppression found throughout the culture. Carmen and her fellow gypsies represent freedom and liberty and superstition. Carmen's final outburst at the end of the opera sums it up well: she lives free and she will die free!

    Scene from Barber of Seville [Photo: Hugh Caughey]

    “As the stage director, I'll be looking for ways to show the oppression throughout the show, trying to bring out some of the more entertaining aspects of the show (to hit the tragedy at the end a little harder), and making sure the story gets told as clearly as possible. The update alters little, if anything, to the story -- it mostly changes props and weapons. Instead of swords and daggers we will use rifles, pistols and switchblades. Instead of smuggling contraband, the gypsies will be smuggling weapons. The other, oft-overlooked, aspect of Carmen is her belief in destiny and the tarot. This is integral to her belief system and I'll be striving to make it more a part of the story throughout the opera”.

    In addition to the performances, BrottOpera is a two-week program with a very heavy schedule for our emerging professional opera singers, which includes master-classes by some of opera’s top stars: tenor Richard Margison (July 4th 10am-12:30pm) and soprano Adrianne Pieczonka (July 9th 2pm-5pm). These masterclasses are free to the public and will be held at St. John the Evangelist Church (320 Charlton Ave W) in the heart of Hamilton.

    Scene from Barber of Seville [Photo: Hugh Caughey]

    “Very much looking forward to the Carmen production. We have a spectacular cast of first rate soloists chosen from 222 eager applicants. 10 of our best professional stars” says Boris Brott.  “You have a chance to get to know each of them individually singing their best chosen solo arias from different repertoire in our PopOpera program July 6 and then in their roles in Carmen July 13. Patrick Hansen is a brilliant director - we have worked together before at Opera McGill. He is imaginative and has a dramatic concept for Carmen which will delight you. Opera brings it all together - orchestra, chorus, lighting, costumes, sets, and you the audience- don’t miss it!”

  • A New Festival for Hamilton’s Youngest Audiences

    May 25, 2017 by Vitek Wincza

    At the end of May, Culture for Kids in the Arts is hosting a special two-day theatre festival for children aged 2-6. Kinderfest was founded in 2016, in partnership with the Wee Festival, in order to bring internationally celebrated artists from Canada, and around the world to Hamilton, and to support the development of children aged 0 – 6 through performance. Now in its second year, Kinderfest presents Puzzle Theatre from Montreal and their fantastical bilingual production of Little Yarn Stories; enthralling puppet theatre which feeds the imagination as simple balls of yarn transform into an extraordinary world of characters!  

    As well as bringing leading artists to Hamilton, Kinderfest is committed to providing accessible workshops, and learning opportunities that explore the importance of the arts in the development of young children. Unique to Kinderfest is the opportunity for educators, and facilitators to observe the way in which young participants engage with arts during live theatre, and then reflect on that experience with field experts and their peers. 

    Little Yarn Stories, Ivan Stavrev

    In the spirit of this initiative, Kinderfest is offering a free panel discussion intended for – parents, educators, college and university students, administrators, artists and arts workers – interested in taking part in a discussion around the topic of Recognizing Language: Exploring the Importance of Arts in Early Years. This platform for dialogue was created by Culture for Kids in the Arts in response to their commitment to deepen the connections between arts and early years and discussion across the region. After attending Little Yarn Stories, participants are invited to observe, and then reflect, and share different ways in which we can support the developing language of a child.

    This year’s panel will be facilitated by leading members of the arts and education communities in Hamilton: Evette Sauriol, Kate Einarson, Brenda Ferguson and Vitek Wincza, Founder and Artistic/Executive Director of Culture for Kids in the Arts. The panel will be moderated by Jessica Lea Fleming, Operations Manager for Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts

    Puzzle Theatre, Ivan Stavrev

    The panel aims to explore the complex variety of ways in which children develop language and process learning. We will discuss the impact that non-verbal, physical action has on the development of early language, and how the arts can help nurture and expand our understanding of the tools in which children use to communicate. The discussion will allow participants to reflect critically and practically on what they have observed during the performance. Audience members will have the opportunity to discuss practical ways of nurturing the development of language at home, in the classroom or through developing performance. This panel discussion is open to anyone who wishes to attend. 
    Little Yarn Stories plays at Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts on May 31st –June 1, 2017. Tickets are priced at $10 (including a complimentary child’s ticket) and $5 for individual children’s tickets. To purchase tickets please visit this link.

    The complimentary panel discussion will be held at 11:30 am on May 31st. If you would like to attend the panel discussion or if you have further questions about booking tickets for families or groups please contact Hanna Wolf at

  • Conducting 30 Years of Music in Hamilton: An Interview with Boris Brott

    May 24, 2017 by Boris Brott

    (This is the second in a series of blog posts by the Brott Music Festival in celebration of the Festival’s 30th anniversary this year which kicks off in June.)

    Interview conducted by BMF interns Donna-Marie Ieluzzi & Aaron Hols-Vanhumbeck

    Music has a profound and unparalleled ability to bring people together; the way it makes us feel and the peace it brings within us is something no other force is capable of. This year the Brott Music Festival celebrates its 30th season and we got to sit down and reminisce with the man behind the music, Boris Brott.     

    If you ever get a chance to speak with Boris about the festival, you’ll see his face just light up. 30 years and 30 summers have seemed to flown on by but the passion and joy for sharing the art of performance and musical excellence remains the same. This is more than just a music festival, it’s a musical experience-one we are excited to discuss with you through Boris’ perspective. From 1987 to 2017, here is 30 years of music from the man who started it all.

    Why did you start the Brott Music Festival and what was your inspiration?

    Boris: “My wife and I had been organizing Ontario Place Pops, a series of programs at Ontario Place. Using the Hamilton Philharmonic [Orchestra]. I was asked by then mayor, Robert Morrow, to do something to liven the city during a couple of visits by the Governor General and a member of the Royal Family…We did and it was successful, and we thought, ‘why don’t we augment that and do more in the summer,’ because there was nothing going on.”

    • The first concert series was a small 11-day festival from July 19 to July 30th. It featured a mix of several artists such as Glenn Gould, Karen Kain, William Hutt and several others. The series was held at Hamilton Place, Gage Park, Redeemer College and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. 

    Did you see the Brott Music Festival lasting 30 years when you first started?

    Boris: “I didn’t see myself lasting 30 years here [chuckles]. I had a goal to develop an orchestra using chamber musicians. At that point, we didn’t know what we were doing with any longevity. The catalyst was the idea of the National Academy Orchestra. I put together a conglomeration of experienced and young musicians which worked well. There was nothing available for retraining in the arts in Hamilton, so I called up Barbara McDougall (MP) and got an appointment. I said to look up how much [was spent] on unemployment for musicians. She came back and said ‘you’re right, we want to help you.’ She gave money from a discretionary fund to train professional musicians the practical aspects of the profession. This solidified the festival.”

    • The National Academy Orchestra is Canada’s only professional training orchestra. 

    You talked about your vision when you came up with the Festival. Has it gone the way you had hoped 30 years later?

    Boris: “Inevitably there are moments of concern; it is not one steady process. We do not program for what we don’t have the money for; we must have the resources. The financial burden is on our shoulder, not on a board of directors [and] we like it that way. Our festival this year is 9 weeks. [Ideally,] I want it to be 12 months, all year round. We have to be realistic and do what we can afford.”

    Whenever someone sees an orchestra, they think classical music or opera. How has the Brott Music Festival challenged these preconceptions?

    Boris: “We’ve challenged this by presenting odd combinations of music and composers and given an opportunity for musicians to interact with other art forms, by inventing crazy ideas that force a collaboration of people that don’t normally work together. Whether it be: poets, cartoonists, beatboxers, rock musicians, etc., it opens the door that anything is possible and in that sense, you can create something new.”

    When the Festival started, it was 11 days and this year, it’s lasting 9 weeks. How did that happen?

    Boris: “It happened to some extent because of the National Academy Orchestra. There had to be performances and there had to be so many concerts for these young people to get real experience in the world. That drove the festival into existence; then that was met with a public that was willing to come and listen.”

    What is your favourite part of the Festival and what do you look forward to most?

    Boris: “I look forward to conducting, to making music, to working with young people. It's the act of creating great music that I love. I always said that I was fortunate in my life not to really have to work a day in my life. I’ve enjoyed [and] I’ve played most of my life. My great joy is bringing this group of young people in and welding them together into a performing ensemble, a unit and watching them flourish, develop and love what they do. [...] My favourite part is working with the musicians. Seeing the smiles, the light and the joy they have in their music making and certainly, [another] favourite part is transmitting that joy to an audience, watching the audience respond in a joyous way. The most joy is from the children’s concerts and to watch kids come in where you know that [most] of them ask ‘why are we here?’, then, watching them go out and be really excited.

    What does it mean to you to not only play, but be a mentor?

    Boris: “I got involved as a very young person with many great mentors from Wilfrid Pelletier, who was a great leader in education and was a great mentor to me. [Another was] Igor Markevitch, who brought me to Mexico City to study music while taking a year off from school, and Leonard Bernstein, who was more responsible for the re-encouragement of the mentorship part of my life. It’s part of my DNA to enjoy sharing knowledge and mentoring young musicians. My mentors who took me on would take me all over the world to gain knowledge.” 

    • Boris values being a teacher just as much as he values being a player and that's what makes the festival so special. The idea of mentorship and education has been embedded in his approach to music from a very young age. He grew up around individuals who taught him not only the art of music but more importantly, the art of teaching.

    For the Festival, what would you say is your favourite place to perform?

    Boris: “I would have to say Hamilton Place. It was built as an orchestral concert hall. I think we are so lucky to have Mohawk, how many schools have a concert hall like that? It has an amazing facility. The other facility that has wonderful acoustics and a beautiful setting is St. Thomas Church in Waterdown [which] has a calm feeling about it.”

    Do you get nervous before a performance?

    Boris: “Always. Always. [...] It's more anticipation than nerves. It's not a fear of performing, but it is an anticipation of doing the very best you can; it’s your inner-energy concentrating on what you are about to do. On the odd occasion, I don't feel anything and then I get worried. [...] If you don’t have it, it changes your dynamic of concentration. [...] My parents got me to play for an audience of teddy bears when I was a kid and I had to play concerts from the time I can remember once a week. [...] I don’t fear audiences from that perspective. I’m not afraid of them; it’s more a fear of myself and how I’m going to do, if I’m doing a piece from memory, a lengthy piece [and] assembling all of that in [my] head and saying ‘okay, now’s the moment.”

    Do you have any pre-show rituals?

    Boris: “My mentor Leonard Bernstein had a pair of cufflinks that he wore at every concert and he would always kiss them before he went out on stage. I can't say that I have any ritual like that [and] I sort of wish I did. I don't know why that is. I just go out there and do it. The pre-concert nerves that we talked about is something that I actually like. You have standards for yourself and you have to achieve them. [pause] We should do open rehearsals [so] people can see how the music has changed from the rehearsal to the opening.”

    What do you think is the most important moment in the festival?

    Boris: “There are so many wonderful, amazing and incredible moments, it’s like choosing between your children. There are wonderful moments for every performance. [...] Creating new music is a significant milestone. We did Mahler’s 8th symphony which is a performance of a thousand people on stage. [It] is a highpoint of the festival for me, as well as the children's concerts this year where we showed a combination of rock and heavy metal. The past is gone and I tend to look forward instead of backwards.”

    What impact do you hope the festival makes on attendees and on the City of Hamilton?

    Boris: “Well, first I’d like to talk about these people that are apprentices. We have had over 1800 young people who have gone off into really interesting careers and have done a variety of interesting tasks inspired by what we have helped them with here.  That's the major contribution from my perspective. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of children that have seen the education concerts that I have been able to dream up over 50 years of career. That’s a huge thing. I think from a Hamilton standpoint, our programming is diverse [...]. We continue to open our window into the world of current popular music through orchestrations of rock and pop musicians and folk musicians. We are constantly letting the light shine in musically into this community in original ways and I think the community responds to us.”

    What are your thoughts and impressions on the upcoming thirtieth season?

    Boris: “To me it’s a season like any other season. I think it’s marvelous that Hamilton has sustained us. I’m grateful for the audiences. I’m grateful for the marvelous group of people we have assembled that make this function.”

    Well, there you have it. Boris has an enthusiasm and a determination to make things happen. He wanted to help young musicians gain real world experience so he created an orchestra where they could work and learn from accomplished industry professionals. Then he used that same orchestra to sustain a festival for three decades.

    The goal of the Festival at large is to touch the lives of those who attend as much as those who play. While it is meant to entertain, it is also meant for people to be one with themselves through the music as it accompanies the memories and experiences we hold and go through as human beings. Boris advocates that “music is about connecting with one's inner-self; it connects with people on a personal level and that is the feeling we are trying to achieve here.”