HAMILTON on film: Representation Matters

Hamilton debuts on Disney+ on July 3. After years of teaching classes, saving up to see performances in multiple cities, and talking incessantly about the creative team and genius behind the show, I can’t wait until everyone can see the ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST in the filmed version of stage production.

Right now I’m teaching a class with 75 students (credit students, middle schoolers, high schoolers, and lifelong learners) who are studying HAMILTON together for 8 weeks. Some have seen the show in person. Many have not seen the stage show and just know the cast recording. Some had never heard the show but wanted to find out what the big deal was.

I’m usually not a big fan of filmed stage productions as orgs tend to hire TV and movie directors who don’t necessarily understand musicals and plays. In this case, the creative team behind the stage production is also the creative team behind the film. The movie has footage from two live performances filmed in June 2016, along with 3 stage shoots without an audience. Also, the original Broadway cast was such an integral part of workshops and the Off Broadway production at the Public Theater – They both lived in and inspired these characters in workshops, Off Broadway at the Public, and in the rehearsals/reworks leading up to the Broadway opening.

Beyond all that, the social and cultural impact of HAMILTON is summed up in this quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda: “HAMILTON is a story about American then, told by America now.” Sure, HAMILTON tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of the country but it also is social commentary on American now. Who is “in the room where it happened” when the country was founded and who is in the room now? How did the fact that those making the decision were mostly land-owning white men affect the way the Constitution and the laws of the land were written and how does the fact most judges and legislators today are white men still affect politics and power.

From Pew Research Center on the 116th Congress:

22% of the 116th Congress are People of Color and nearly 25% of the members are women. Both are the highest metrics for both measures but still leave a lot to be desired.

Non-Hispanic whites make up 78% of voting members in the new Congress, considerably larger than their 61% share of the U.S a population overall. And despite the growing racial and ethnic diversity of Congress, this gap has widened over time: In 1981, 94% of Congress was white, compared with 80% of the U.S. population.

And, well, 50% of the population is female.

Presidents who are People of Color: 1 of 45
Presidents who are women: 0 of 45

What can you do to help move the needle?   Go to When We All Vote and register to vote/make sure your are still registered and haven’t been bumped off the voter rolls.  Consider supporting free and fair elections by donating to Fair Fight, watch a talk by Stacey Abrams and read her book, volunteer to help GOTV (Get Out The Vote).  Support the USPS – an uncompromised US Postal Service is necessary to support absentee voting and census efforts.   Donate to and support the ACLU.  Even during COVID-19, you can make a difference.

SOURCE:
https://www.pewresearch.org/…/for-the-fifth-time-in-a-row-…/

https://www.pewresearch.org/…/record-number-women-in-congr…/

Just can’t wait. #hamilfan #hamilfilm

Blog #8: Street Art/Protest Art/Public Art

Blog #8: “Street Art/Protest Art/Public Art” Posting a few photos of murals on boarded up storefronts on State Street. I’ve added artist info on each photo as credit should be given and so you can consider supporting them.
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Many of the pieces are part of city project coordinated by Karin Wolf of Madison Arts, who is working with the Central Business Improvement District. “Designed to give working artists a commission, showcase their work and provide funding during the COVID-19 crisis,” the program provides a $250 commission to artists for each mural they create. (Wisconsin State Journal, June 8)
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The public art gallery runs the length of State Street. Some businesses are tagged with words, others have fully painted plywood canvases, and some others have signs from the city project that say “Please reserve this space.”
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From artist Daniella Echeverría, who is part of the city mural project: “People need to sit with the discomfort of these boarded-up windows and how their silence helps perpetuate white supremacy,” says Echeverría, who found herself having mixed emotions about the project. “It was really frustrating people walking by and saying, ‘Oh, thanks for turning this into something really positive!’” she says. “It’s hard to feel like what you’re doing isn’t just painting over this problem and not actually involving all communities.” (Tone Madison, June 8)
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If you get a chance to visit, please take time to sit with each image rather than blindly snapping photos for Instagram. Go with a friend so you can discuss the work in this outdoor “gallery.” Read the message, and see how it is expressed, in each piece. Do share the images but do so in a way that amplifies the artists – make sure to credit their work, to include Instagram handles and websites for organizations.
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Reflect on how much of the “street art” now featured as officially sanctioned public art would be illegal in other contexts. Rather than talk of preserving it in photos, helping artists sell pieces, and selecting panels for the Wisconsin Historical Society, the conversations would be centered on how to “clean up” and cover up the work. In recent years both Madison Arts and Dane Arts have supported public art projects that provide paid work (commissions) for artists and valuable real estate/surfaces to create on (utility boxes, alley doors, walls). A step in the right direction, yes, but what more could schools and communities do to embrace and support a more inclusive vision of “what is art”? To encourage the intersection of artistic expression, critical thought, and complex conversations?
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SOURCES:
The Isthmus, “The Plywood Canvas,” features professional photos and artist credits for the murals which are part of the city project. (June 6, 2020)

Wisconsin State Journal, “Art brings messages of solidarity, protest, and large swaths of color to State Street” (June 8, 2020)
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Tone Madison, “Layers of art, plywood, and privilege accrue on State Street” (June 8, 2020)
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Artist Daniella Echeverría’s Op-Ed, “I did not paint a mural on State Street to make white people feel better,” was published in the Wisconsin State Journal on June 12, 2020.

Learn more about the Madison Arts Commission
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Dane Arts Mural Arts (DAMA) is a public art program that trains local artists to become community artists who use mural-making to beautify neighborhoods and make a difference in the lives of youth. DAMA empowers artists, neighborhoods and youth to become change agents, collaborating on projects which physically and socially improve communities.

The Capital Times, “On eighth night of Capitol protests, painting on State Street helps artits of color heal” (June 7, 2020)

 

 

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Artist: @soulwaterskeleton @_BIZOE

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Artist: @iampeeld https://www.iampeeld.com/

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Artist/s: @OHYASTUDIO @EMILYBLUESTAR https://www.ohyastudio.com/

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Instagram: @Janlin_art

Artists & Arts Orgs: Connecting virtually while physically disconnected

Blog #7:  Artists and Arts Organizations: Connecting virtually while physically disconnected.
As few thoughts inspired by an excellent article from Vanity Fair: “Furloughed Musicians and A New Digital Frontier: Performing Arts in the COVID-19 Shutdown.
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Key Takeaway: “One challenge is figuring out how to monetize the digital experience for an audience that’s bathing in a glut of free content.  Another is figuring out how to create an experience that’s satisfying online, by organizations that have been trying to do this for some years already.”
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For years there have been ongoing conversations about industry trends tied to demographics – In most performing arts organizations, the largest share of subscribers and donors were from the two biggest generations (Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers). Gen X is a smaller generation with less buying power than those before it. Beyond that, we’ve fretted that Millienials and Gen Z would choose a multitude of online content options over live performance. Add in the move of many patrons from subscription purchases, committing to and paying for dates months or even a year in advance, toward single ticket purchases that happen a week or two before the performance. The uncertainty of how arts organizations are funded and an increasingly unsustainable revenue mix have been there for a long time, part of ongoing conversations on a larger scale for the last decade, and has amplified with each passing season.
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Invevitably these conversations come back to the assertion that many potential audiences would choose the convenience of Netflix and takeout over a attending an event in person – paying for childcare, putting on real pants, driving to a venue, dealing with limited parking options, and not having the ability to pause or come back to whatever they’re watching.
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As more artists and arts organizations share their work via digital platforms and try to build community online, we’re BOTH increasingly grateful for these opportunities AND becoming more appreciative of the live in-person experiences that social distancing prevents. As we say in the theatre world, “Yes, and….” Connecting virtually while we are physically disconnected challenge us to continue to share that which makes us human – as makers and doers, as supporters, as appreciators – in ways that many artists and organizations may carry on for years to come, even when being together in person is possible. Just as social media and email newsletters haven’t replaced print marketing, posters, and brochures, these online arts offerings won’t replace in person art galleries, concerts, shows, and experiences and may supplement those in person opportunities.
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In the meantime, many of us are thinking about what the arts look like in the months until we have a vaccine and widespread testing.  A few things to think about – How are each artist and organization grappling with lost revenue from ticket sales, sponsorships tied to events, and donations inspired by attendance?  Can you continue mission-driven programming during shelter-in-place and, quite frankly, do you need to?  What best practices and models for engagement are emerging across the sector?  How do you balance conserving scarce resources with attempting to connect with others?  How do you plan for continued certainty while working in a sector that will be one of the last to return as we’re dependent on it being safe for everyone to gather regularly in public spaces again?
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This is not the first global pandemic – we’re all seeing plenty of references to the Black Death and “The Spanish Flu.” Estimates for the century of the Black Death (1350-1450) indicate that the bubonic plague reduced the world population from 475 million to 375 million over the century that it raged across borders. While World War I claimed an estimated 16 million lives, the flu pandemic of 1918 claimed an estimated 50 million people. Why share these terrible statistics? To reiterate that, despite horrible losses, civilization survived and, eventually, arts and culture thrived again. Currently we have 3.13 million confirmed cases (and countles not confirmed due to lack of testing) resulting in 218,000 deaths and countless others who “recovered” but are have suffered permanent dehabilitation due to the disease. While indications are that the infection continues to spread, our ability to easily communicate globally, share research, and work together to slow the infection should give us all hope that we won’t see the same level of death as in previous global pandemics. (My students are reading this would close this paragraph with “Related tangent!” as this often happens in our arts management classes.)
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In closing, the arts will survive. Will every organization? No. Will every venue? No. Will every freelance artist. No. Will every management company? No. Will every school? No. The creative sector, or really any sector, is not going to look the same after a widespread shutdown due to a global pandemic. There will be much to mourn and much that will not return. That said, the arts will survive.
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READING LIST

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The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918,” National Achives article and documents
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The Devastation of 1918: Finding pockets of hope in the great flu pandemic,” by Anna Maria Gillis for the March/April 2014 issue of HUMANITIES: The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Arts
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live streaming graphic

Blog #5: How budgets work – Part 1: Revenue

Little Brown Notebook Blog Post #5: “How budgets work: revenue”

part of a series on “The Impact of the Coronavirus on the Arts”

Before delving further into the impact, I thought I’d share a few posts about the financial side of running an arts organization that produces and presents shows. For the purposes of these posts, we’ll talk about the typical performing arts season which has productions, concerts, and events from September through May.

REVENUE

Revenue is just fancy word for income or resources coming in to the organization.  When laying out a budget we break these revenue streams into a few major categories:  Earned Income, Contributed Income, and In Kind.  …and, of course, there are several subcategories within each of those.  If we were to make a pie chart of the typical “revenue mix” for a nonprofit arts organization in the United States it would break down to roughly 60% earned income, 20% grants, and 20% donations.  [Graphic from a 2017 study by American for the Arts]

pie_chart revenue

EARNED INCOME

In performing arts, the largest percentage of earned income comes from ticket revenue from subscriptions and single ticket sales.  A key aspect of this revenue is that it is unrestricted – once the show is over you can spend it wherever you need it to sustain the organization.

Subscriptions are a key part of keeping many organizations afloat as they’re built trust and loyalty. Organizations offer ticket packages at a discounted rate in the spring and patrons buy them in April/May for shows they won’t be able to see until the next season, which is often months away. The much-needed infusion of cash from subscriptions helps the arts organization sustain itself during the summer months when there are no productions (so no single ticket sales) and donations may be down.  It also provides capital needed to cover the upfront expenses that need to be paid during the months leading up to a production.  More on that in our next blog post about expenses.

Single ticket sales are a huge stressor as a producer as they tend to be last-minute, the week of the show.  You watch the daily ticket reports looking for a bump. Did the article in The Isthmus inspire anyone to purchase?  Is there an uptick after a social media campaign or your latest newsletter. Every morning is a check against the money that has already been invested in the show vs the earned income from ticket sales.  Why is this such a big deal?  Go back to the imaginary pie chart with 60% of the revenue needed coming directly from patrons via ticket purchases.

Beyond tickets, many performing arts organizations offer classes and outreach programs. The registration fees for classes work much like a subscription – You pay tuition up front, for the promise of the delivery of a specific number of lessons/classes.  For outreach programs, you’ve got a flat fee to bring a performance or workshop to a specific audience and are usually paid for that work after the event.

Other segments of earned income include concession sales (wine sippy cups!), merchandise, and

CONTRIBUTED INCOME

I’ll start this section by ranting a bit about the terminology “contributed” as it sounds like you didn’t have to EARN it.  Contributed is usually defined as “gift in support of mission.”  Anyone who has ever written a grant or spent hours building a donor campaign can attest to the fact that it is earned.  Rant over.

The main categories of contributed income are grants, sponsorships, and donations.

Grants from the government (like the Madison Arts Commission, Dane Arts, and Wisconsin Arts Board) and foundations (Madison Community Foundation, Peterson Family Foundation, etc) are usually awarded in support of a specific project – they’re funds that are restricted. When you write the grant application, you are making the case for support for a particular show or project and, if you are funded, the money must be spent on that show or project. Further complicating this process is the requirement by some granting agencies that no portion of the funds underwrite “administrative overhead” aka the daily operations of the arts business which will make the project possible (institutional marketing, company staff, fundraising expenses, etc).

Sponsorships are usually a promotional exchange.  A company pays cash or donates a substantial amount of goods or services in exchange for benefits like being named as the lead sponsor for a particular project, logo on website/poster/program, verbal recognition in a preshow announcement, and program ad space.  Some sponsorships also include a specific number of tickets to a performance and/or a corporate performance for the business and its employees and families.

Individual Donations are when someone gives you money to support the work you do as an organization or arts business.  The relationship building that inspires someone to send money, no strings attached, takes time and attention.  Think about the times you’ve donated – What moved you to send $$?  Were you thanked for your contribution?  Will you consider supporting the organization in the future? Why or Why not?

IN KIND GOODS & SERVICES

In Kind Good and Services is just business jargon way of talking about donated goods and services. When budgeting for a show, I usually lay out revenue, expenses, and in kind as three separate sections as in kind are both a revenue (donated) and an expenses (you have to account for what it would have cost so your budget balances out).

Examples include someone volunteering their professional services like an accountant giving you a discount on monthly bookkeeping, a church allowing you to rehearse in their space for no charge, and a printing company donating the printing of your programs. For In Kind gifts you ALWAYS track what has been donated and the cash value of that item as you need to know what it actually costs in case you need to pay for it for a future project or event.

Hopefully this whirlwind exploration of the revenue side of arts organizations has provided some insight into how companies work.   We’ll tackle expenses in the next blog post and then discuss how the coronavirus is disrupting the business model.

 

READING LIST

Americans for the Arts regularly conducts nationwide surveys of artists and arts organizations.  See “Source of Revenue for Nonprofit Arts Organizations” from 2017.

Grantmakers in the Arts Study Points to Positive and Negative Revenue Trends,” by Eileen Cuniffe for the Nonprofit Quarterly on February 26, 2018

“Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21stCentury,” Ellen Rosewall, Oxford University Press, is the best arts management text available.  We use it as the foundational book for all the courses in the Arts Management program that I teach at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. It should be required reading for all nonprofit staff members and nonprofit board members.

Beyond Sustainability: Identifying the Right Resource Mix for Growth,” by Woods Bowman for Nonprofit Quarterly for July 12, 2017

 

Where do you go when you sleepwalk? – Part 1

IMG_3456Ou tu vas quand tu dors en marchant? is a spectacle/multidisciplinary artistic installation produced as part of the Carrefour International Theatre Festival held each year in Quebec City. For 2015 there are five “exhibits” – four at Artillery Park and one just down the hill at Les Palais.

The photos included below are from a walk-through theatrical experience created by Le Théâtre Rude Ingénierie, a “multidisciplinary creation company that focuses on the interrelation of sound, image, object, engineering and life, exploiting the potential of unexpected encounters,” in partnership with L’Orchestre d’hommes-orchestres, a collective of artists who mix visual arts, music and theater.

Created at Ilot des Palais it was the most elaborate of the five pieces showcased in this year’s Festival. The piece included 14 musician environments, each its own set with detailed dressing, and the musicians in attire fitting to that particular place.  The orchestra wore headsets so they could stay in sync with each other as they were spread far apart on a parking lot and facing all directions. In addition, all were also under the microscopic focus of a video camera feed that was projected on the walls of nearby buildings like a Wes Anderson version of The Brady Bunch.

Was it a successful project? The production values (scenic elements, costumes, and lighting) were well conceived and executed. The musician actors all played their parts well – staying in character in the face of thousands of voyeur audience members invading their respective “homes.”  Connecting the environment with the instrument each played was also a fun exercise – from a banjo player in a buffalo check flannel on the back of old rusted red truck to a dolled up bassoonist in a hairdresser’s shop. We’re used to seeing musicians on a stage, separate, away.  This created a sense of place, of belonging, and each audience member became part of that “home.”

Listening to the sound check with each musician warming up with whatever they felt like, I had high hopes for the musical aspects of the performance.  I chose not to incorporate video in this post as I’d rather you imagine your own soundtrack than listen to the unison dirge that was composed as part of the project and failed to capitalize on the musical talent of the orchestra members.

Quebec City – Day 5

I started the morning with a walk to Marché du Vieux-Port, the farmer’s market in Quebec City. It’s reminiscent of the Essex Market in NYC – compact but with plenty of interesting vendors. As it’s located at a port, there were several seafood stands, including two tanks full of lobsters. My favorite was an Italian food stand that was selling balls of homemade pasta wrapped like skeins of delicious yarn. If you visit, I’d recommend visiting the market on your first day and stocking up on groceries to sustain you during your visit. With all of the FAA rules, the chances of getting to bring anything home are slim to none.

A stop at Boutique Gourmand in Place Royale in La Petit Champlain proved to be a nice window perch for people watching. One last chocolate chaud and a few macarons to accompany the entertainment. I witnessed a previously unknown phenomenon of tourists sitting at empty cafe tables just to take a photo pretending like they are actually “at” the establishment …and then leaving. Maybe it’s just the Midwesterner in me but this seemed a bit strange.

From the exterior Notre Dame des Victoires (1688) looks like most other churches in the city, walking through the doors revealed a refreshing simplicity. Open and airy the sanctuary glowed from sunlight and the warm wood of pews, carved in shapes that echoed carriages and sleighs of a bygone era. White walls hung with white oval frames of the stations of the cross. The altar flanked with fluted Corinthian columns, is accented with golden Grecian molding. Suspended from the ceiling are six simple chandeliers, that once held candles and now channel electricity, and a large model of the Brézé, a wooden ship that arrived in Québec City in 1664 transporting the Carignan Regiment and the Marquis de Tracy. Two local musicians provided vocals with pipe organ accompaniment, ending the mass with their own jazz rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

From there I headed back “up the hill” to the Museum of French America (Musee de l’Amerique Francaise). It’s a bit of an oddity as you enter off of St. Anne’s Street and then walk through a small chapel which is used for music and theatre performances in addition to services. I shared a few discoveries in my photo album – let’s just say a good rule of thumb when visiting any Catholic church is “You really don’t want a closer look.” From the Chapel it’s through an underground tunnel to the main entrance to the actual museum. Following a recent renovation the museum is incredibly interactive, luckily they have headsets with English translations for practically everything. The collection placed emphasis on early settlement and also on exploring the role of missionaries in the history of Quebec and the disbursement of French-speaking people across North America.

One final stroll down Terrasse Dufferin in front of Chateau Frontenac, overlooking the St. Lawrence River ..a mixture of historic and contemporary buildings and ships in the harbor, with the old paper mill and the Laurentian Mountains in the distance. A little bear of a man was busking, singing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” with a jagged Quebecois English accent. Coupled with small picnic of rillette, cheese, and wine, it was a fitting send-off before my journey back to Madison.

Quebec City – Day 4

Until this trip I hadn’t spent much time looking into my French ancestry. It turns out Raymond Legris (my maternal grandfather) was the 10th generation descended from Guillame Legris of Brittany. Three of his sons, including our ancestor Adrien, emigrated to New France (Quebec) in 1680. Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlaign in 1608 and reached a population of 500 by 1663. When the Legris brothers arrived it had grown to 1300, partially due to the promise of wealth from the fur trade …and partially due to the fact that the government, in an effort to increase population, awarded a sum equal to the value of six cows for every child in a family. (That subsidy only lasted ten years as French Catholic families exceeded government estimates and it could no longer fulfill the contracts).

I spent three hours at the Musée de la civilisation on Saturday. Half of the first floor is taken up by an exhibit on the history of animation in film in Canada. Following the history of projections from the early 1800s through computer animation was fascinating – highly recommend a visit. “The Peoples of Quebec City” exhibit was a study in curation and museum design, what could have been boring and dry actually kept an entire tour of middle school students engaged.

While visiting the “Magic in Ancient Egypt” exhibit at Musee de la civilisation I was struck by how many parallels there are between Christianity and the traditions of ancient Egypt. Rather than a god for a particular concern, Catholic traditions have saints. Mummification and death rituals are echoed in our own Western funeral traditions. Temples have been replaced by cathedrals but the aspect of community ritual remains.

From there it was on to Musee de la Place Royal. It’s in the heart of Quartier Petit Champlain and is a strange little museum focused on the history of that neighborhood. Artifacts are from the homes, warehouses, and businesses that once stood in the surrounding blocks.

My evening field trip included a visit to Ecole de Cirque, the Quebec City school of circus arts, to see their spring youth performance. Housed in a decommissioned church, the school transformed the main floor into a highly flexible practice/performance space. Many of the pieces featured performers of mixed ages, body types, and abilities. Both boys and girls were trained in every aspect from juggling to the silks. Young girls served as bases while boys “flew” and vice versa. The crew who set up and rigged the equipment and also provided comic relief between each piece was comprised of both students and coaches. The emphasis was on community, artistry, and athleticism. Stars were given showcase pieces but they also performed with younger athletes and those who may not have had their level of skill. It was the embodiment of what most youth organizations tout as their mission …and a far cry from what most of them actually do.

Quebec City – Day 3

Yesterday I walked down Grand Allee en route to Avenue Cartier (named after one of the founders of the city, not the jeweler). It’s more a nightlife street but there were several beautiful historic homes. Avenue Cartier is a shopping district that, like many of the shops in the Old City, features locally owned businesses which sell Quebec-made or Canadian goods.

I wandered for an hour or two in the Plains of Abraham Park. I’m so glad I did a city walking tour on my first day so I understood the history behind the area. The park is on top of a cliff that the English managed to surmount. They camped out, backs to the river, and taunted the French into battle. A battle that started with onlookers cheering for what they thought would be the end of the English. After less than 20 minutes of fighting the English won and claimed Quebec City as part of the British empire. After exploring the park I’d recommend finding the staircase down to the boardwalk and walking back along Boulevard Champlain.

The Citadel is well worth the price of admission. Your ticket includes admission to a wonderful museum with many artifacts that help tell the story of French Canadian involvement in World War I and World War II, and every war since then. There is a wonderful photography exhibit that draws parallels between military service in World War I and Afghanistan. The walking tour of the grounds includes some of the best views of the city, the St. Lawrence River, and Levis. Also, there’s a goat named Batisse.

The Morrin Centre is a small but incredibly interesting place to visit. It was the first city jail, housed an Anglophone college for English-speaking Protestants from 1862-1902, and is home to the Morrin Library. The tour lasts about an hour and the tour guide did an incredible job providing insights into the history of the building, from visiting jail cells to college classrooms. Afterwards you’re welcome to visit the library and read to your heart’s content.

Many locals have commented on the fact that government is the main employer in Quebec City. Judging from what I’ve seen during my wanderings, road repairs and construction must rank at the top in terms of employment.

As when I visit New York City, I am reminded, yet again, that we have it so good in Madison. A pint is $8-$9.50 here and you can’t walk out of a cafe without dropping $20 for a typical lunch.

I’m not sure if this is because Canadians actually like musical theatre, or because the standard expectation is that American tourists will, but I’ve witnessed the following performances by street musicians: a woman on the terrace in front of Chateau Frontenac singing “All I Ask of You” to a karaoke track; a classical guitarist playing a fancy version of “Don’t Cry for me Argentina;” a pianist playing “I Dreamed a Dream,” and a harpist playing “I Have Dreamed.”

It’s raining. Again. I hate flip flops but am now bowing to the weather gods and wearing them in public.

Quebec City – Day 2

Starbucks has infiltrated Quebec and, much like the English when they kicked out French rule, has situated itself at Chateau Frontenac. As a matter of principle, I avoid Starbucks and try to support local businesses but this morning was a desperate exception. Coffee shops are rare in the old city and time was limited.

Poutine at Chez Ashton. Whatever it is that they serve at Coopers Tavern pales in comparison to the real thing, both in flavor and caloric haul. It’s like comparing the Green County Fair cheese curds to the awful frozen ones that they serve at State Street Brats.

Ile d’Orleans is best explored by bicycle as the roads and seven villages are tiny. If you come to Quebec City, take advantage of this opportunity:http://www.ecolocyclo.net/servicesus.html

The weather is very changeable. Layers are necessary for survival as one minute it will be hot and humid and the next you’ll be chilled by a cold breeze and lack of sun. Also, three pairs of shoes, all soaked from being caught in a storm, three storms in three days.

Today’s French word: somnambulisme. Its means sleepwalking and is applicable to the past 24 hours in two ways. 1) I haven’t sleepwalked in many years but apparently last night was an exception. Luckily I didn’t fall out of one of the open windows. 2) I went to a theatrical spectacle this evening which, when translated roughly, means “Where are you going while you are sleepwalking?”

Sometimes contemporary art is exhilarating. Sometimes it’s exhausting. Tonight was a little bit of both. Evening #1 of the Carrefour International Theatre Festival – Location #1: five experiences staged in various sites outdoors at Artillery Park in Old Quebec City. An interesting mix of an historic setting and an exploration of what it means to be human. Separate blog posts coming up.

Quebec City – Day 1

Day 1 – Random thoughts from Wednesday in Quebec City:

Quebec City is built on a cliff and is very hilly. It reminds me quite a bit of Montmartre in terms of terrain. The only flat streets are in Quartier Petit Champlain which is the district along the docks and outside the walls of the old city. Good thing I brought Converse and wedges.

Main food groups: meat, cream, beer. Don’t worry we’ll include a small side salad so you get some vegetables. Wine counts as fruit. Would you like some more?

Coffee sizes are normal here (unlike Starbucks and most American shops). Small is 8 ounces, medium is 12 ounces, and large is 16 ounces. This does not apply to beer or ice cream/gelato/sorbet.

At the Anglican Church the tour guide told me that I was sitting in Queen Elizabeth’s pew. I didn’t really hear anything else he said after that as I started wondering what color suit she wore and what her hat and matching handbag looked like.

Everyone is really polite but not in a “I work in a tourist area so my boss makes me kind of way” – in a “I’m a genuinely nice person, let me smile while I help you” ..and maybe “I’ll crack a joke about your bad French but I’m not being mean” kind of way. This does not extend to driving (see below).

Curbs are only a suggestion. They might be seven inches high but, really, you can feel free to drive over the curb and on to the sidewalk because you don’t want to wait for the car in front of you to move. Pedestrians? They can move out of your way.