Citadel Theatre play review – August: Osage County

When I got the invitation to go to the play August: Osage County at Edmonton’s Citadel theatre, my thoughts were mixed.

I’ve attended plays in the past and really have never been that big of a fan of them. I thought about it and realized I’d never been to a professional play in a place like Edmonton, so I decided to go.

I must say, I do not regret that decision one bit. August: Osage County was hilarious and definitely lived up to its billing of dark humour. I don’t normally closely examine and expound on my entertainment choices, so if you’re expecting a profusion of flowery prose on this play, you’ve come to the wrong place.

What I will say, from an average-guy point of view, is that the play is well worth seeing. It is the story of a family that comes together in Oklahoma after the patriarch of the family disappears and is found dead.

It is full of dark humour, and if you never would have believed you’d find incest, molestation and mental breakdown funny, you obviously haven’t seen this play. The playwriters maneuvered through the potential minefields of simply being creepy and found the humour in the situations.

It wasn’t all funny, and there were many dramatic moments during the play as characters came to grips with the realities of life.

Apparently the play was much longer than they normally are, with two intermissions. The first third of the play was actually a bit slow, but set the stage for the final two acts. Those last two acts flew by as the family disputes really developed.

My favourite scene had to be the family dinner. It reminded me of a few family dinners I’ve attended in the past. I think attending the play would be worth it for that scene alone. There are too many great moments to list (or remember).

I read that the play is going to be turned into a movie. If it’s half as funny as the play, it’s going to be a great movie. I’ll definitely line up for that one.

About the Edmonton Citadel Theatre

It was also the first time going to the Citadel Theatre, and I was impressed by the venue. It’s undergoing desperately needed renovations but I felt like I’d stepped back into the 1980s with the amount of burgundy and brass.

The Shoctor Theatre itself has very comfortable seats with an amazing amount of leg-room. I was right at the back but was able to see the play well and the actors were easily heard.

You must remember, my experience seeing plays has typically involved sitting directly on gym floors, or plastic chairs, so having a seat with arms and leg room was sort of novel.

August: Osage County is worth seeing

For those who may not be so inclined to see a play, you really should consider a professional production. It’s a far different experience and definitely worthwhile. If you’re worried about people showing up in tuxedos, I didn’t see anyone that dressed up. Business casual works, and I even saw people in jeans.

If you haven’t seen a professionally produced play, you should catch August: Osage County as your first one. It’s worth it!

Favourite photos

I’ve been blogging more and actually getting out and taking more photos too. At the same time I’ve been doing a lot of uploading to Flickr in an effort to do some online back up of my photos. I figure I might only be about half-done in that task.

That means at least another 6,000 or so photos to go! I thought I’d post a couple of my favourites here today. The top photo is a sunset over the Fraser River in Quesnel, B.C. The second photo is the Rocky Mountaineer tourist train taken half-way between Williams Lake and Quesnel.

Canadian healthcare – catching up

I’ve had a question about the Canadian healthcare system for a while now, which has been prompted by the endless, vitriolic debate south of the border about private versus public healthcare.

Critics of the Canadian healthcare system point to waiting lists as one of the big failures of our system. Of course this is a problem and it’s something that needs to be dealt with. The scale of the issue is another question.

While our system isn’t perfect, I certainly wouldn’t trade it for the US healthcare system where your coverage could be yanked if you’re just not profitable enough, if you even had health care coverage. The life expectancy of Canadians is higher than Americans too, so we can’t be doing too bad.

What I’ve wondered is how much would it cost to resolve the waiting lists in one year? If we were to spend the money necessary to take care of everyone on the waiting list who can reasonably be attended to, how much would that cost?

Of course that would not include people waiting for transplants. Obviously they can’t get real help until donors become available.

I know that urgent cases will always be moved to the front of the line, but when you’re in that line, your case is the number one priority, in your eyes! And who’s to doubt that? If you need knee or back surgery and can’t work because of it, it’s critical to get that treatment so you can be productive again.

My wife was seriously hurt at work and had an MRI very quickly. She’s been getting treatment and physiotherapy, so our system can work well for particular silos of patients, namely WCB claimants, although WCB claimants have many more issues when it comes to injuries that prevent them from working.

And what would the cost be compared to the costs of having these people languish on waiting lists? Would there be more tax revenue for government to offset that additional cost? If someone were to have to wait for two years on disability to get back surgery, if they were to get the back surgery sooner and get back to work quickly, surely that would be more beneficial to government coffers.

Also, by getting these surgeries done quickly, there would be less damage to undo. The longer someone has to wait, often more damage is done, making the problem worse and, in the end, more expensive.

So, has anyone in government has really looked at the opportunity cost of having all these people who can’t work languishing on waiting lists? When I look at how our governments operate today, I tend to doubt that it’s happened. Maybe someone needs to figure that out.

It would certainly be better in the long run if our healthcare system could keep up with current cases rather than having to deal with surgeries that should have been performed up to two years prior. Maybe that makes too much sense?

Pondering photography

Lately I’ve been getting back to writing more often and getting out and taking photos, both things I love to do.

Admittedly, it’s partially due to my participation in Empire Avenue, a kind of social media stock investing community/game. The more active you are, the higher your stock value will get.

There’s nothing wrong with having a little motivation. Sometimes we forget about things that are important to us and in recent years I’ve gotten away from writing and photography, at least on a personal basis. I still write professionally, but it’s not always the same. You certainly don’t have quite the same freedom.

I’ve been documenting some major family events recently, such as my uncle’s memorial service in Spokane, my daughter’s graduation in Williams Lake and my son’s grade 9 farewell from a Catholic junior high.

I’ve been putting as many photos as I can up on Flickr. As I say in my profile, my Flickr account isn’t so much a gallery of what I’d consider my best work, but more online storage of photos I have taken. I weed out the truly bad ones.

I know I’ve got lots of good photos in there, but I really don’t take the time to tinker with them in Photoshop as I see many people doing. My Flickr account certainly doesn’t function as a resume of my best work in hopes someone will randomly wander by and offer me a job as a professional photographer. I’m a little ways off from that.

I think my Flickr account is more of a documentary of my life and those around me, for better or worse. I also have been trying to get other family members to connect to my account if they’d like to download any of the full size photos so they can print them themselves. That’s been more of a chore, which is a shame because I think that Flickr functions pretty well as a hub for family and friends to share photos.

Colour accuracy

One of the issues I’ve always had with digital cameras is colour accuracy. It can be so tough to accurately capture the colours you’re seeing. I shot a set yesterday that I wasn’t too happy with, looking at the camera. I was pleasantly surprised when I loaded them onto my computer.

The colours of the flowers in my photos are very close to what I was seeing. That makes me really happy! If you look at my photostream in Flickr, you’ll see a lot of flowers. I’m a bit obsessed by them, but I prefer wildflowers and it’s better when they’re in their natural setting. I do have a few DVDs worth that I still have to upload too.

Sunsets and sunrises are another of my favourite photography subjects. It can be tough to get the colours just right there too. I don’t like to have to Photoshop them to get the colour correct. I prefer it to come out of the camera looking as it should.

I’ve been using my digital camera for four years now and I would say I’m reasonably accomplished, but I still have a lot to learn. I just bought a flash a few weeks back and that’s a whole other area I’ve got to learn.

I would like to try doing portraits with studio lighting eventually. I don’t want to be a pro, but I want to give it a try.

New camera equipment

As for equipment, one of my favourite kinds of photography is macro photography, so some type of macro lens is in my future. I would like a good quality wide-angle zoom, like a Canon 28-70mm f/2.8, but a Canon 24-105mm f/4 is another one I’m considering.

I have a 70-200mm f/4 already, and the 28-70 would be nice to cover the range. I thought a 24-105 might be nice for the overlap.

Eventually I’d like to get a full frame sensor body like a Canon 5D MkII. Then I’d be able to do some video also. Once I’ve done that, I’ll invest in a good wide angle lens.

I don’t plan on doing any of these things any time soon. Still undecided and I’ll invest in more lenses before I buy a new body.

Any suggestions on what lenses might be better or other lenses I hadn’t considered?

Mother Earth News article: The truth about vegetarianism

I’ve been a subscriber of Mother Earth News for a while now and a reader of the magazine since I was a kid. I’ve always appreciated the thoughtful and interesting articles in it and this month’s issue has an interesting story called “The Truth About Vegetarianism.”

The story is based on the 2009 book The Vegetarian Myth. I’d just like to say that I don’t have anything against vegetarians or vegans. I understand why they do what they do.

I haven’t read the book yet, only the article, but it seems that the author is really interested in delving into the nature of the modern factory farming agricultural system. Lierre Kieth, a former vegan, suggests that the vegetarian path is not going to accomplish the goals that most vegetarians seem to have. These reasons include tend to revolve around health, protecting animals, helping feed the hungry and not participating in factory farming.

All those are honourable goals, but is being a vegetarian really going to accomplish them? Avoiding meat for health reasons, particularly if that meat is coming from the factory farm process, is quite sensible. I’m not going to go into those reasons, but I certainly understand them. I would prefer to consume naturally raised animals instead of genetically modified, steroid and anti-biotic injected, confined and often diseased animals.

I would also prefer to eat fruits, vegetables and other food products that aren’t genetically modified, coated in pesticides and herbicides or contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. Coli. Is that too much to ask? Apparently to factory farmers, it is.

Keith covers a broad range of topics in her five-page summary published in Mother Earth News, dealing with food security and factory farming. I tend to agree, from the reading and research I’ve done in the past, that these are far more serious issues that being a vegetarian is not really going to adequately address.

It is not easy to break the factory farming cycle, but we’re beginning to see rumblings among citizens that indicate people are becoming fed up with the crap we’re being fed, both from agribusinesses and politicians. I certainly don’t blame the small farmer who’s being driven to the edge of bankruptcy by what is a fundamentally corrupted food system.

The popularity and awareness of farmers markets has really increased in recent years. I’m not sure if gardening has as well, but I hope it has. We really do need to examine the relationship between what we eat and where it comes from to our personal health and the health of our land.

If you’re interested in your health, your family’s health and the health of agriculture, this article would be a good start. I’m definitely going to be picking up the book.

Different direction for media organizations?

With all the predictions of the death of the mainstream media, it’s amazing to think it’s still around. Blogging and Twitter, apparently, will replace mainstream media, or so some would have you believe.

I’ve been a member of the mainstream media and I’m now a blogger. I’m on Twitter. The lines between media and social media are occasionally blurred.

I don’t buy into the hype saying that blogging and Twitter will replace the mainstream media.

We still have radio, books, magazines, newspapers, television, etc. Nothing replaced them. New forms of media have simply changed them. They all still have their place in the media landscape.

Mainstream media is changing

In the summer of 2009 I heard an interview with David Black, CEO of B.C.-based Black Press; apparently it’s Canada’s largest newspaper chain with more than 150 newspapers. He’s still expanding his newspaper empire. Puzzling, considering how many are claiming the media is dying.

What does he know that the pundits don’t? He knows is that the media is not dying, but is changing. Technology has driven the change and the recession has accelerated it.

Small local papers will be around for a long time and some lessons can be taken from them. The biggest advantage they have is that they have a local focus and I believe this will be the primary advantage of successful newspapers in the future. Citizens want to know what is happening in their community and local media still is one of the best ways to do so.

Today the media landscape is littered with wire copy. It’s cheap and easy filler. It has its place and is important in finding out what is happening around the world. On a daily basis, local news tends to be most important to readers. So what’s the best way to get that local news?

The future of newspapers: new form of media organization

The first step would be to form a co-op and everyone in the company is going to earn the same amount. Everyone’s going to be equal, have the same vote and be an equal partner in the organization.

Co-ops aren’t exactly new, but it’s not a common model for media organizations. Journalists typically aren’t a particularly entrepreneurial lot. CHEK TV on Vancouver Island is a fairly recent example of an employee owned station. I believe it’s a corporation, but it’s a similar idea.

Maryland allows social or benefit corporations with California and Vermont possibly following their lead. It essentially allows a corporation to have social goals as one of their primary goals, and not just profits. It could possibly allow a corporation to survive a hostile takeover by a larger, richer media organization seeking to reduce competition. I wouldn’t mind seeing something like this in Canada.

Second, the newspaper would be entirely online. Traditional newspaper and broadcast media are increasingly finding life online, but it’s different, and not as lucrative (yet). By not having a paper version, operational costs are kept much, much lower. One of Black Press’ key advantages is its ownership of presses. It’s expensive and creates many difficulties. While traditional newspapers will still be around, online publications will be the key to the media’s future.

Third, it would be ad free and would be completely subscriber-based. Yes, the dreaded paywall. The idea is to have the newspaper be strictly focused on journalism and not on advertising. The logic is it would be a publication free of any perceived advertiser bias. Those who aren’t subscribers would be allowed some limited views of stories. Partial views of stories would also be allowed in Google News.

I think that people would be willing to subscribe to a quality newspaper free of any perceived bias from advertising. You might not cover the entire market, but could find a sufficient number of subscribers interested in quality journalism that could make the online newspaper a go.

Details: using Edmonton as an example

I’m based in Edmonton, and here’s how I can see it working. According to 2001 census figures, Edmonton has 265,000 households. Now, and including the surrounding area (Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Sherwood Park, Leduc, etc), let’s roughly estimate that at 400,000.

Let’s give journalists a healthy wage of $50,000 each. Using the Edmonton Journal as an example, there’s approximately 90 people in its newsroom and production (estimated).

With an all-online edition, 40 people for an online only, daily publication, to start would be reasonable.

The total payroll would be $2 million. Allowing an extra 50 per cent for overhead such as office space, libel insurance and other costs, you would be looking at an annual budget requirement of $3 million. Seems like a lot, but without ads, how do you do it?

Well, how much would a subscriber be willing to pay? Getting the Journal every day costs $256 per year. Not bad, but would someone be willing to pay $100 per year to get ad-free news delivered to their inbox, online, iPad and to their smart phone? I think they would. With GST that would be $8.75 per month for daily news, or 29 cents a day. (Seattle Post Intelligencer is all-online now and I’m curious how well they’re surviving.)

With a $3 million budget and $100 per subscriber needed you only need 30,000 subscribers. That’s only 7.5 per cent of the households in the Edmonton metro area.

As of March 31, the Edmonton Journal had a paid circulation of 125,589. Readership is estimated at 268,900 to 458,000. The assumption with readership is that there are multiple people reading the same paper.

So, what happens if there are 60,000 subscribers? This would mean revenue of $6 million per year. There are a couple possibilities here. It would be wise to create a reserve of working capital for the operation, but then what? The excess earnings could be distributed to those in the co-op as a dividend. It could be donated to charities.

More importantly the newspaper could expand its coverage and team. It could begin to invest more in investigative journalism. These days the trend is to cut newsrooms, not expand them. Investigative journalism has suffered at a time when North American citizens need it most.

Should there be ads?

It’s certainly possible to produce a quality newspaper, online or otherwise, without ads. I’m sure there’s a large chunk of the newspaper audience that hates the ads. I think it would be a big selling feature for a lot of people. If readers know they’re getting a quality product with honest reporting, that’s also a big selling feature. That’s not to say that just because you have ads you can’t trust the reporting.

People do read the ads in newspapers, no question. Some people pick up newspapers for the ads. Many small community papers seem to be little more than something to hold all the flyers that get delivered.

If an ad-free online newspaper were to be started, it would certainly leave room in the marketplace for competing newspapers to offer space for ads. What would the potential audience think? Good question. Before a venture like this got started, it would certainly be wise to do a great deal of market research to confirm that there would be demand for it. Or maybe an “if you build it, they will come” approach could be in order.

Beyond one city

This model can easily be expanded to more than one city. I can see something like this spreading across Canada and elsewhere. With a common look and content management system for the web, you could brand the network and pull in news from everywhere into that network. It could function as its own wire service.

Ad-free news from across the country, and maybe the world? I would definitely subscribe to that. Surplus funds from larger locations could be used to help new “bureaus” get started in other locations and bring them into the co-op. Once one location was successful, the goal would be to self-fund the entire organization.

If you were an unemployed journalist, would you rather sit at home on EI, or get back to work? If a group of journalists were suddenly laid off at a major paper and got a settlement package, why not pool those resources and start a publication like this? Take a risk! I think it would be more than fair to repay those who funded the organization with surplus funds the organization generated.

Would it work?

I believe that this is a realistic model for future newspapers and helps to solve the problem of shrinking the newsroom as a way of increasing profits. I think that employees would be even more committed to the success of the organization because they share in its successes. It works for companies like Lincoln Electric and Westjet.

I would like to hear your thoughts on whether you’d be interested in investing in something like this, would subscribe to it or why you think it may or may not work.