Tag: ottawa

How Fringe succeeds where others have failed

Ottawa Fringe Festival announces best-ever ticket sales in 2015

2015-10-05 20.20.59
Kevin Waghorn (left), managing director, and Patrick Gauthier, festival director, announce final numbers from this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival and plans for the upcoming 20th year in 2016.

“We don’t say there’s something for everyone at the Fringe Festival; we say there’s something for you,” said Patrick Gauthier, festival director.

On Monday, Gauthier announced this year saw the best festival attendance ever with 13,700 ticket sales. This puts the festival in a good place to go into their 20th season next year.

The Ottawa Fringe Festival is part of a worldwide theatre movement that allows any artist to submit a proposal for a show. The shows are chosen by lottery rather than by quality of content or notoriety of the theatre company. If their plays are not chosen, artists can also apply to “bring your own venue,” also called a BYOV.

“If you’re an artist and you have no money and no one knows you, then Fringe gives you that very rare and vital opportunity to express yourself in a public setting,” said Meagan McDonald, a University of Ottawa master’s student who showed Ophelia’s Flowers in 2014 as a BYOV.

Unlike other arts and culture events that suffer from poor attendance and ticket sales, Fringe has been extremely successful. They had 56 companies performing 373 showings this year with 40 sold-out shows. This year there’s even a Fringe Encore performance Oct 8-10 showcasing two popular shows from past festivals, including I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent, which sold out all seven of its performances in June.

Large arts and culture-related events in Ottawa have had their share of troubles with profitability, including most recently, the Neat in the Woods festival in September; Capital Pride declaring bankruptcy last year and being run this year with help from the Bank Street BIA; and the University of Ottawa chapter of Her Campus, a female-focused online student publication, taking over Ottawa Fashion Week after ticket sales didn’t meet the event’s expenses.

The Ottawa Fringe Festival is also non-profit and ticket revenues go to the artists putting on the shows. The festival is largely volunteer-run and takes care of marketing, promotion and ticket vending for the artists.

The biggest challenge facing the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2016 is the redevelopment of Arts Court. The project will expand the current building to include a 250-seat screening room, a 120-seat theatre, condos and some classroom space for the University of Ottawa.

It’s expected to be completed by 2017, but for now the construction will mean fewer venues, and therefore fewer shows. Gauthier said it’s hard to know for certain what state the building will be in next summer since they haven’t been given a construction schedule.

“(It’s a) whole demilitarized construction zone we are living in right now,” he said.

The lottery for the festival opened on the same day as the announcement, allowing artists to submit proposals in hopes of getting a spot at an Arts Court venue—these are set up with sound and lighting boards.

The unknown hasn’t put artists off from applying: the Black Sheep Theatre company, who have been involved in every year of Ottawa’s Fringe Festival, will be coming back, as will McDonald.

“I had a really good experience,” said McDonald. “So good that we’re actually applying again for this year.”

Advertisements

Building a better commute and saving time by cycling

Tim Moore works as a bike technician at Foster's Sports Center, Ottawa's oldest bike shop.
Tim Moore works as a bike technician at Foster’s Sports Center, Ottawa’s oldest bike shop.

Tim Moore rides his bike 15 kilometres into Ottawa from Aylmer every day for work. It saves him a lot of time.

“If I drive in, it would be an hour. I take the bus, it’s 45 minutes. I cycle in, it’s 25,” he said. “All the traffic is bottle-necked on the bridge, so there’s line-ups and line-ups and line-ups. Get on the bike and just whiz by.”

Moore works as a bicycle technician at Foster’s Sports Center, at the corner of MacLaren and Bank Streets. It’s the oldest bike shop in Ottawa, with long front windows full of shiny, multi-coloured bicycles. The inside of the store has wide, empty aisles designed to allow customers to wheel in their bikes so Moore and the other techs can work on them.

As a bike tech he mostly builds and services bikes in the shop. The most common fixes are for flat tires when people run over glass or construction debris, but he also builds and test drives some of the higher-end bikes for avid cyclists who will pay for a technician’s expertise in assembling their new purchases.

The shop is quiet on a weekday morning, interrupted occasionally by the sound of the doorbell, and customers coming in with bicycles, skates that need sharpening, and requests for bike accessories. Office workers in pressed dress pants come in on their breaks to get Moore to take a look at their bikes.

Cycling to work allows Moore to bypass traffic congestion and intimately understand the vehicles he works with. While people could fix many things on their own, he said he’s able to do it very quickly: “What could take somebody an hour, we can generally get down to about five minutes or so.”
With all of the people on the road commuting, Moore doesn’t worry much about getting hit.

“I’m lit up like a Christmas tree and I obey the rules of the road,” he said. “When I can, I cycle in the bike lanes.”

While it doesn’t make him nervous, he’s had many close calls and has been “doored” a few times. “I saw it coming, so basically just (got) bumps, as opposed to lying down on the asphalt.”
He said there’s a section on Richmond Road where the city has put in dooring lanes that are helpful in giving cyclists more space.

In general, he likes the fact that the City of Ottawa has taken a “more proactive role in cycling, particularly downtown,” adding bike lanes and green bike boxes—designated areas at intersections for bicycles to stop for red lights. But he doesn’t think the federal election is likely to impact infrastructure in any new ways.

“Looks like the Conservatives are going to take it again,” he said. He doesn’t see them putting much more money into infrastructure.

Of the 15 million Canadians who commute to work, 74 per cent of them drive a vehicle and 12 per cent take public transit, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. It’s a lot of traffic concentrated in urban centres and a lot of money—on average, Canadian households spend $2,606 a year on gas and $1,077 on public transportation. Fewer than two per cent of Canadians commute by bike.

Though the NDP has said it will work with provinces and territories to create a transit plan which could incorporate cyclists, the Conservatives and Liberals have focused more specifically on public transit.

Moore hoists a bicycle up on a stand to work on the wheels, then empties bags of silver screws, nuts, and bolts onto the counter gently, so they don’t roll off. He chooses what he needs, then returns to the bike.

For those looking to start commuting by bike, but nervous to drive in downtown traffic he said, “Take your spot in the right-hand wheel track … go as fast as you can safely and just be visible, just be lit up. Have a visible helmet and maybe a traffic vest of some sort or just bright clothes.”
“I know the apprehension about it,” he added “but you’ve got to do it a couple of times in order to alleviate the fear.”

In need of a home: Affordable housing a key election issue in Ottawa Centre

There is a waitlist of nearly 10,000 people in Ottawa for subsidized housing and many stay on that list for more than five years, according to the City of Ottawa.

“I’ve got something like one project a week that we’re not able to do because funding or the economic circumstances don’t support it, said Ray Sullivan, executive director of the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC). The non-profit affordable housing organization hasn’t been able to develop any new homes this year due to decreased funding by the Conservative government.

In Centretown, in the Ottawa Centre riding, 35 per cent of tenant households are spending more than 30 per cent of their total income on housing, according to the 2011 National Housing Survey;  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canada’s national housing agency, sets affordable housing as a shelter that doesn’t cost more than 30 per cent of household income.

“We’ve knocked on 70,000 doors and I go to affordable housing and social housing that is literally falling down,” said Catherine McKenna, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre.

On June 19, McKenna released a statement calling for a national housing strategy, well in advance of the Liberal Party of Canada’s housing platform, Affordable Housing for Canadians was released on Sept. 9.

Both Sullivan of CCOC and Simone Thibault, executive director of the Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC), a non-profit health and social service organization, said a national strategy for housing is essential.

“It’s important to maintain what stock we do have, it’s precious to people who need to access it,” said Thibault. She identified two important affordable housing issues in Centretown: maintenance of older buildings and a mix of housing in the area, including high-, middle- and low-income units.

“It’s not just a case of social housing, but affordability of housing right across the spectrum,” said Sullivan, adding that a national housing strategy should address the affordability and accessibility of both tenancy and home ownership.

As a party, the Liberals have also adopted a policy recommendation to create an affordable national housing strategy, although it has not been directly included in their election platform.

While the NDP has not yet released a housing platform, party leader Tom Mulcair has promised to commit $5 billion to housing and other municipality infrastructure, according to the Toronto Star. Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre NDP incumbent has been active in supporting organizations involved in providing affordable housing in Centretown, like CCOC and CCHC.

“He’s actually a former CCOC tenant,” said Sullivan, “so he understands what we’re doing and the importance of affordable housing.”

Paul Dewar did not respond by press time.

Opting out: when students get a better education by not going to school

Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa professor and research chair, said schools should be less focused on standardized testing.
Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa professor and research chair, said schools should be less focused on standardized testing.

While some parents in Ontario threaten to opt-out of sex education, others are more interested in opting out of what’s seen as a more an integral part of education: testing.

“Teachers have been tied to having to teach a very rigid curriculum,” said Joel Westheimer, a University of Ottawa professor and research chair.

On Sept. 16, at Octopus Books at 251 Bank St., he launched a new book, What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good, that critiques the current education system for being too focused on standardized testing.

In Ontario, standardized tests are created and administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). These tests assess the math and literacy skills of students in Grades 3, 6 and 9.

“Kids call it evil questions attacking Ontario,” said Westheimer.

In his book, Westheimer writes that over the past two decades, he’s seen the focus on test preparation cause teachers to teach more math and language arts at the expense of visual art, social science, computers, health and physical education.

“Instead of measuring the things that we care about,” he said, “we start to care about the things that we can measure.”

Erika Shaker, director of the Education Project for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), said the research done by the Ottawa-based policy research group has found that wealthier children tend to do better on standardized tests—their schools, in turn, receive better funding, increasing the disparity in quality of education along class lines.

Shaker has a daughter in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. After discussing her concerns about standardized testing, she said her daughter chose not to participate in the Grade 3 EQAO test.

“I didn’t see it as an effective use of class time,” Shaker said.

On the day of the test, she said her daughter did classwork at home in the morning and went to school once the testing period was over. Shaker said the school was fine with it: “It was a non-issue.”

More parents across the province have been choosing to opt-out of the tests. Jennifer Adams, director of the Ottawa-Carleton School Board said her board “strongly encourages” students to write the tests.

At the book launch, Westheimer said that while he supports the opt-out movement, he isn’t entirely against standardized testing—assessing schools as a barometer for how things are going can be a good thing.
“It’s not like there are big, bad, evil administrators trying to harm children,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to do what they think is the best thing.”

Eat, eat as fast as you can: lunchtime in Centretown

OConnor and Queen 0915Downtown workers rush to food trucks and coffee shops on their lunch breaks, quickly lighting cigarettes and making personal phone calls on street corners. No one wants to spend their time talking to a reporter.

“That smells really good,” I say to the man sitting next to me. He looks up without smiling, his mouth full of fries, then turns back to his food, filling his mouth—within seconds he chews the last bite.

He’s wearing a neon yellow vest, a hardhat sits next to him on the bench, and he balances a small cardboard box filled with a hot dog, a can of Coca-Cola and French fries. The smell of ketchup and grease comes as much from his meal as from the nearby food truck, The Best Fries in Town.

The corner of Queen Street and O’Connor Avenue is a stopover point at noon on a Thursday. The line-up at the food truck has a short, stocky man in military uniform, a businessman in a dark pressed suit, and construction workers with bright vests. Small groups of government workers from nearby buildings stream past, wearing summer skirts, sandals, short-sleeved dress shirts, polos, and pressed trousers. Their ID tags are tucked into pockets, hung around their necks, or clipped onto belt loops.

The construction worker sitting next to me leaves as soon as he finishes his hot dog, carrying a paper bag of fries and his hardhat up O’Connor toward Parliament Hill. Cranes and scaffolding loom ahead and new copper roofs shine in the sun.

Steady lines of cars and pedestrians create a white noise of voices and engines improbably blending together into a single sound. Aside from an occasional car horn and a pedestrian yelling, “It’s my right of way, asshole,” to a passing truck, the sound is constant.

Another man sits down and sets down a tall Starbucks coffee beside him. He’s bald and tall, wearing a dark grey, well-tailored suit, with a lit cigarette in-hand. I try to talk with him, and he smiles, but angles his knees and torso away from me as he finishes his smoke.

More workers stop, consume and hurry off, unwilling to talk for more than a moment.

At The Best Fries in Town, the staff have even less time to talk than the people on break. Between taking orders, the woman at the window gives me a smile and a nod before turning to lift a fry basket.

As 1 p.m. approaches, the streets start to empty.

“Alright ladies, I’m out of here,” says one woman in a groupitting nearby. They’re each wearing brightly-coloured knee-length skirts—green, orange, yellow—and they’ve been talking about a wedding in Quebec.

“It was more like a commitment ceremony,” the woman in the orange skirt says.

They each get up, not quite letting the conversation go, as they continue talking and walk toward the World Exchange Plaza.