The Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2020 Goes Digital!

The Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2020 can be enjoyed from the comfort of your home this year because despite the global pandemic, they are, as this year’s festival theme proclaims, Still Here.

I had the lovely experience of interviewing the festival’s Artistic Director, Anoushka Ratnarajah; honestly, I could listen to her talk all day about art and social justice. When I asked her about this year’s powerful theme at the start of our conversation, she recounted how it transpired: “The films that I was seeing were really exploring themes of transformation, resilience and survival. It just made sense Still Here would be our theme at that time – and then it became even more poetic and true when the pandemic hit, especially as an arts festival that programs for live screenings and for live events.”

I think many of us have realized the importance of the arts during a time when we are focused not just on staying physically healthy but also on truly living. This was definitely noted by artists and creatives who made music, theatre, opera and more, accessible to all of us. “In times of crisis, we really turn to stories and artistic expression to provide comfort and catharsis and joy; we need the arts and we need storytellers now more than ever,” Ratnarajah agreed. And with the world turning its eyes toward human rights and social justice issues – the Black Lives Matter movement, trans rights, Indigenous rights – the intersectionality of this festival will continue to feed these important conversations.

“It is heartening to see that more people are waking up to the lived realities of so many of us who are most marginalized.” ~ Anoushka Ratnarajah

Anoushka Ratnarajah, Artistic Director of The Vancouver Queer Film Festival

The VQFF is still here and bringing some incredible programming to you so grab your tickets, cozy up with the ones in your bubble and prepare for some diverse, touching and humourous films showing between August 13 and August 23, 2020.

The Opening Gala film is a documentary called Pier Kids which follows a group of Black, queer and trans youth who find family and community on the Christopher Street Pier (a historic space for marginalized people in NYC) made by a director named Elegance Bratton who was himself a Black homeless youth. Usually in documentary films, subjects don’t get paid but in this case, they did which is unusual and amazing. Aside from the wonderful content, this documentary celebrates a unique take on filmmaking.

The lineup includes the Centrepiece Gala film, Lingua Franca: an ambitious feature film that follows a trans Filipina migrant as she navigates being undocumented in a Trump-era America. The film is written, directed by and stars trans actress Isabel Sandoval, who will join audiences virtually to discuss the film in a digital Q&A.

Finally, this year’s VQFF will close with the heartwarming queer Muslim romantic comedy, Breaking Fast, directed by Mike Mosallam. Ratnarajah shared her perspective on this film as a brown person: “It’s so incredible to be able to see brown people on screen being funny and not being the butt of the joke, having supportive families and supportive friendship and community, and not being portrayed as isolated and miserable because they are queer. It’s funny and it’s romantic and it also doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations around race and faith when it comes to those two things intersecting with a queer identity.”

Breaking Fast Image credit: Iftar Productions
For more information, visit them at their website, on Instagram, on Facebook,
and on Twitter (#VQFF2020)



Diwali In B.C. Expands To Three New Cities In 2018!

As a South Asian woman and a writer, I’m always interested in learning about initiatives that combine both of those identities. While I favour writing creative nonfiction and opinion pieces, I am pulled to poetry and theatre for my entertainment, and to stretch me out of my own mind, into the stories of others. When I identify with the stories acted out on stage or film, or spoken from a poet’s mouth, it’s an even deeper experience for me. Learning about the expansion of Diwali in B.C. makes me so happy, knowing that more people have access to such stories that they can either identify with or learn from.

Nobody understands this better than the creative behind such initiatives, Rohit Chokhani, who is an award-winning producer and director. The recipient of the Vancouver NOW Representation and Inclusion award at the 2018 Jessie Richardson Awards, Chokhani is recognized for encouraging the diverse voices in theatre and dance, and for creating a platform for South Asian artists. In particular, his endeavours Project SAT and Diwali in B.C. appeal to artists and art-lovers who appreciate such a platform.

What is Project SAT?

Project SAT, which doubles as an acronym for South Asian Theatre and the Sanskrit word meaning ‘pure and true essence’, has a mission to “build a platform for the next generation of South Asian artists and the next wave of South Asian stories being told,” says Chokhani. “There are a lot of Western organizations where South Asian artists can go and learn but they’re going to teach them how to create and tell their stories based on the Western approaches.” Workshops that further this mission are offered throughout the fall with a focus on dramaturgy, Natyashastra, producing and playwriting. These workshops are specifically tailored to members of the South Asian community who experience marginalization, and translators are available in Hindi, Punjabi and ASL.

What is the difference between Western and Eastern philosophies of training in drama?

I was curious about this because it seems to be the crux of Project SAT. Without knowing the difference between the two philosophies, I felt like I couldn’t quite grasp the importance of the work that happens in this space. Chokhani explains, “Basically, the key element is ‘text or non-text’. In most Western work, more often not, the work starts with ‘what is the script, where is the script, get the script made, THEN we will work from the script. In a lot of Eastern traditions, whether it’s theatre or dance…the source is emotion-driven…what is the emotion you want to tell? In the Western world, they also focus a lot more on character and what the text needs to tell. In the Eastern world, you could be emoting a lot of things…like the weather.”

diwali in b.c., taslim jaffer, rohit chokani


The Natyashastra workshop this fall takes place over 4 days and dives deeper into this distinction between the two philosophies, comparing the dramaturgy of Bharata’s Natyashastra text and the Western dramaturgy of Aristotelian poetics.

In another workshop, Introduction to Producing, Chokhani will focus on the fundamentals of theatre production.

Do you have any ideas about what is lacking in the South Asian arts scene? Questions about his workshops? Chokhani welcomes your comments and questions, and loves chatting about cultural arts.

Diwali in B.C. October 3 – November 17, 2018…YES! 6 Whole Weeks!

Last year I had the privilege to speak with Chokhani about his new province-wide Diwali celebration, celebrating the Festival of Lights as well as South Asian culture in an inclusive way. With programming that centred around sex trafficking, abuse and healing, last year’s festival was a hit – and this year, it’s back and BIGGER.

Expanded to include 3 new cities, you can find programming for 2018’s theme New Horizons, in Vancouver, Coquitlam, Vernon, Maple Ridge and Nanaimo. When asked about this expansion, Chokhani explains, “What was lacking was to go beyond Metro Vancouver. So last year I created a new brand, a new organizational structure and launched Diwali B.C. specifically with that intention, that the programming in Metro Vancouver should continue…but I did want to step outside of that and cater to the needs for such programming as well as the need to connect with community beyond the major urban centres. So, this year we are starting with Vernon, Maple Ridge and Nanaimo.”

A really amazing accomplishment is the launch of this festival in Vernon. Diwali in B.C. is taking over this Okanagan town with events throughout the whole week that cater to individuals as well as families. Bollywood fitness classes, yoga classes, Rangoli making, and a special number performed by the Shiamak Vancouver dance team (I highly recommend experiencing a Shiamak performance!) fill the calendar among other fun and tasty events, as noted below. Visit their website for more details about the festival and each of the events.

2018 Diwali in B.C. Programming:

A Vancouver Guldasta October 2-21 at Vancity Culture Lab | Presented with The Cultch

A Vancouver Guldasta focuses on a Punjabi family in Vancouver in the early 1980s as they navigate through the experience of trauma and violence occurring in Punjab, and their daughter’s complicated friendship with a Vietnamese refugee teen who lives in their basement. The story takes place during the Indian government’s armed invasion of the ‘Golden Temple’ — the holiest shrine of the Sikhs — in the epicentre of the Sikh diaspora, South Vancouver, B.C. A Vancouver Guldasta is an examination of common experience, identifying home, and processing trauma.

diwali in b.c., taslim jaffer, rohit chokani

Diwali in B.C., Vernon  October 9-13 at various locations in Vernon, including the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre

This inaugural event is presented with the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre and will culminate in a multicultural showcase of diverse artists from different backgrounds. Activities throughout the week will include workshops, discussions, dance performances, musical performances, cultural activities, and crafts. The festival’s final performance, featuring headliner Shiamak Vancouver, takes place at the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre on Saturday,  October 13 at 7:00pm.

diwali in b.c., rohit chokani, taslim jaffer

Shyama  October 27 at the York Theatre Co-presented with Vancouver Tagore Society and in community partnership with Mandala Arts & Culture Society, with support from BC Arts Council

A Bharatanatyam interpretation of Tagore’s epic Bengali dance drama Shyama with original choreography by Jai Govinda. This dance theatre piece is a tribute to the first non-European Nobel-laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore and his magically visual poetry and music of love. Dance artist Arno Kamolika has been collaborating with musician Shankhanaad Mallick and with director Rohit Chokhani for over two years on this production, and Diwali in B.C. will debut their most current version of this poetic, deep philosophical story that will be performed on stage with other Bharatanatyam dancers in B.C.: Grihalakshmi Soundarapandian, Jaylakshmi Ravindra , Malavika Santhosh, and Vidya Kotamraju.

The Believers Are But Brothers October 30-November 10 at Vancity Culture Lab | Presented with The Cultch Written and performed by Javaad Alipoor, and co-directed by Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley

The Believers Are But Brothers is an electronic maze of fantasists, meme culture, 4chan, the alt-right, and ISIS. Old orders are collapsing, from the postcolonial nation states of the Middle East to the European Union and to the American election. Through it all, tech-savvy and extremist groups rip up political certainties. Amidst this, a generation of young men find themselves burning with resentment and without the money, power, and sex they think they deserve. This bold one-man show explores the smoke and mirrors world of online extremism, anonymity, and hate speech.

diwali in b.c., taslim jaffer, rohit chokani

Diwali in B.C., Maple Ridge  November 10 at The ACT Arts Centre This inaugural event is presented with The ACT Arts Centre

The evening celebrates South Asian culture with classical and contemporary dance as well as live music performances, and a special performance by Shiamak Vancouver.

Diwali in B.C., Coquitlam  November 11 at Evergreen Cultural Centre

Diwali at Evergreen is in its second year and is presented by the Evergreen Cultural Centre. The South Asian themed evening features live music as well as classical and contemporary dance performances, including a special performance by Arno Kamolika.

I hope you are able to participate in one of these events and, if you do, I’d love to hear about your experience!

taslim jaffer writer

Vancouver Queer Film Festival: “We Are Here. We Are Talented.”

August is here and for Vancouverites that means one thing: cramming in as much fun as possible before heading back to school and office routines (yes, we work in the summer but things are a little more lax, am I right?). If you want to fill your month with some out-of-the-box, expand-your-mind plans, don’t pass up the Vancouver Queer Film Festival! There are many VQFF events running throughout August 9-19 so you have plenty to select from.

Vancouver Queer Film Festival Celebrates 30 Years

VQFF is celebrating 30 years of spotlighting talented queer artists in an industry that is “gatekept by those with privilege,” according to Artistic Director, Anoushka Ratnarajah. “A lot of white people, a lot of cis men, a lot of heterosexual folks…so we really make it a priority to centre and platform, particularly, queer and trans marginalized voices in our festival.” Further to their commitment to raising these voices in our community, for the past few years VQFF has a dedicated spotlight on two-spirit and indigenous queer talent.

Ratnarajah and her co-artistic director Amber Dawn, along with a volunteer program committee, had the incredible task of reviewing film submissions to curate a festival worthy of a milestone for this under-represented artistic community. When asked about the submissions they received for the festival this year, Ratnarajah explained, “This year we’ve been really excited to see such an increase in trans representation on film, and we’ve actually been able to curate an entire spotlight that centres trans women on screen. Historically, stories about trans women have been performed by cis male actors, and there are a lot of really talented trans women out there. We have decided to make it an ongoing policy to not show films where cis men are playing trans women.”

It’s not just about being representative – the other criteria for the program committee: the films have to move audiences. And Ratnarajah and her team guarantee that audiences will not be disappointed.

VQFF, Vancouver queer film festival, amber dawn, anoushka ratnarajah
VQFF Artistic Directors: Amber Dawn and Anoushka Ratnarajah

Queer Artists Respond To World Events Through Films At VQFF

In 2018 alone, the bigotry deluging the queer community has been identified at local and global levels. But so has the outcry against these acts. Remember the Pride flag portrayed by people wearing soccer jerseys during World Cup in Russia where ‘gay propaganda’ is against the law? As well, Instagram was recently forced to apologize after removing an image of two men kissing when account users went instacrazy on the company. And there was public opinion voiced when a primary school in London, England had to shrink its Pride parade due to threats from parents.

This festival showcases narrative that springs from incidents such as these because, as Ratnarajah states, “We don’t live in a void or a vacuum. Everything affects our programming.”  These films tell the stories, the experiences that are uniquely queer.

Should I Go To VQFF If I’m Not Queer?


This was not a real question, by the way, but something I threw in there because I think it’s important to say what people might be thinking. The reason I don’t think it’s a valid question is because that would be like refraining from watching films set in foreign countries or starring a cast that looks nothing like you. We can’t expect to learn about and from each other when we don’t step out of what is typically our experience. It doesn’t mean it’s going to change who we are (except maybe for the better, if it helps give us perspective).

This film festival is an incredible opportunity to learn through art, to be moved by a medium that transcends whatever differences we think we have. Art removes the illusion that there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. There’s no escaping our shared humanity when it’s pouring out on screen, on stage, or on the page.

For More Information On VQFF

You can check out their website to select and buy tickets.

Follow them on Facebook or check their tweets on Twitter to stay updated or let them know you’ll be supporting them!

taslim jaffer writer



Avocado Toast: Poking Fun At Vancouverites

I have always lived outside of Vancouver (first in Richmond, now in Surrey) but when travelling, I default to the popular cosmopolitan city when asked where I am from. Often, I’ll go beyond and explain that I live in a surrounding area, but the farther I am from B.C., the more likely I am to receive a blank stare if I supply any other city name. It’s not a big stretch for me; over the years I’ve dined in swanky Yaletown, gone club-hopping on Richards St., taken in fireworks and ice cream at English Bay, poorly executed rollerblading the seawall on a first date (a blog post in and of itself), and hung out with my poet friends on Main Street. It may not be the city I live in, but I do love its neighbourhoods with their quirks and undeniable cultures. But Vancouverites and ‘Vancouverites-of-the-surrounding-areas’ have to admit: there’s a lot of room for parody here. So, when I got the chance to poke a little fun at Surrey’s older sister,  thanks to Vancouver Theatre Sports League’s Avocado Toast, I didn’t turn it down. Neither should you!

Avocado Toast Presented By Vancouver Theatre Sports League

From now through September 1 (Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm) at The Improv Centre on Granville Island, you can treat yourself to a very Vancouver evening: sailboats, sunsets and sights that make Vancouver an internationally popular destination. I had such a lovely commute ‘into the City’ (as we say) with my friend; we got to catch up on the drive in and had some laid-back laughs in the theatre. I told you that part of my plan for a more ‘sane’ summer as a mom of 3 is to get out with a girlfriend sans enfants. Avocado Toast was my first planned evening out and it was a great way to kick off the summer! Any time I can laugh with a friend is time I cherish, and at VTSL it’s pretty much impossible to not giggle or guffaw.

avocado toast, taslim jaffer writer, vancouver theatre sports league

Have you ever been to an improv comedy show? It blows my mind how a group of talented artists can create an entire show out of nothing and have us in stitches over yoga, the Grouse Grind, coffee and bike lanes. There was nothing this crew couldn’t do, it didn’t matter what the audience threw at them. Isn’t that the best part about an improv show? You can be a part of it without having to be on stage? You can just throw your suggestion out there, and if someone grabs it you get to see how it plays out in the minds of some really funny people. I mean, if you’re really brave you can get up there, too. But my friend and I enjoyed being close enough to touch the stage but not actually set foot on it!

You know what else is awesome about attending a show for Vancouverites about Vancouverites? You can literally wear your yoga pants and you’d be on point. I didn’t. I mean, it was my girls’ night out; I dressed up and wore jeans. But maybe the next time I go, I’ll wear something stretchier. Yes, I’d go again! When it’s improv, you NEVER get the same show twice and I am so curious to see how Avocado Toast is served up another time!

If you’re looking for an opportunity to get out and do something different, I highly recommend checking out the shows at The Improv Centre. With so many food destinations close by and unique shops to wander through, you can make quite an evening out of it. For me, it’s a great place to meet a friend or venture out to on a date night when I need a little dose of Vancouver.

You can follow their updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram like I do so you don’t miss a show!

Are you from Vancouver or did you grow up around here? What’s your favourite Vancouverite stereotype? Let me know in the comments!

taslim jaffer writer


Work-At-Home Mom Tips For Some Sanity This Summer

“Hello there!” my neighbour chirped, breaking my trance. I looked toward her voice which came from the road at the back of my cottage.

“Hi,” I responded dully from the love seat on the side deck.

“Everything ok?” Concern laced her question. If she was someone I knew better, if I wasn’t exhausted, if I could find the words, I might have told her how utterly sad I felt. But nothing came out except a mumbled excuse about being tired.

It wasn’t a lie. I was tired – tired of feeling the way I had been feeling for most of the summer. Even at the lake, my happy place, I couldn’t drum up an ounce of cheer; faking it was out of the question. I was way past that.

I felt this struggle every summer. I’d start off optimistic, even determined, that the approaching season would be different. That I’d not only survive the long days but also thrive. I was the mom, right? I’d be in charge of how the day went and what I was able to accomplish, and my kids would line up in a row like little goslings. My children would be fed and entertained, I would tend to my writing business, and there would still be plenty of time for family adventures. So many people envy the work-at-home mom because of exactly this scenario. I have to say that in 10 summers of trying, I have not quite come close to that pretty picture.

And last summer was the worst.

It took me nearly the entire month of September to pull myself out of my funk. I think I spent the first two weeks of school, sprawled in bed or on the couch, willing the fatigue out of my body and mind. This was in direct conflict with that part of me that was excited to have some kind of freedom again to create and work and grow my business; at the end of the day I was always disappointed by what I hadn’t done with those precious hours when they were finally in school. Looking ahead, I want something entirely different for these next few months.

I hesitate to say this…but I have a plan. My hesitation comes from the fact that I spent much of yesterday afternoon refereeing fights, witnessing tantrums and wishing I could sail to an island far, far away. Nevertheless, the show must go on and this introverted writer and mom of 3 is pulling out some tricks to give me some sanity this summer (for you, too, if you need it).

Three Things I Will Do For Some Sanity This Summer

1. Call in reinforcements. I have a teenage babysitter available much of the summer and boy, do I plan to use her. Whether it’s for my anniversary dinner or just some coffeeshop writing time, I will not hesitate to dial her number! (Or text…whatever). I also hope to get together with my friends and their kids; this allows my friends and I to see each other and for our kids to have some playmates while we catch up. The more kids are around, the more entertained mine are. The more moms are around, the more relaxed I am. Win-win! I also have the two oldest ones in a couple camps each. I basically took my credit card to the local community centre and said, “Charge it.” It felt So. Good.

2. Have quality time with my girlfriends. This, of course, means time without our kids. This was hugely lacking for me last year. I saw two friends the entire summer! One in July and one in August. It was not enough. My girlfriends are the ones who get me, the ones I can be messy with, and the ones I can belly laugh with. I don’t know what could be better for my mental health than time with other women who understand what it’s like to be a mom who’s also trying to maintain her individuality and womanhood. I am booking in dates with girlfriends weeks in advance so I ensure I am not going too long without that precious time. This Thursday, I’m taking my friend to a media night of Avocado Toast at Vancouver Theatre Sports League. I’ve been looking forward to this for a couple weeks and honestly, just knowing I have it planned lifts my spirits in those trying moments.

3. Take a few minutes to myself each day. Yesterday, it was a drive to the gas station. And then a 15 minute phone call with my cousin from the car…parked in my garage. But you know what? It helped. By the time I got in the house, the kitchen was cleaned up from dinner (strategic timing on my part, I know) and the two younger kids were in bed. This allowed me to spend a quality half hour with my oldest before tucking her in and then relax for an hour before calling it a day. The drive gave me a little sense of freedom and a chance to play my music loud. The phone call allowed me to connect with someone I care about, talk to her about something positive in her life (which made me feel inspired and proud) and then vent a little about my own day. By the time I got to my oldest daughter’s bedroom, I almost felt like a new person and I could give her the best part of me. Some days, a few minutes to myself might look like a walk (alone or with a neighbour), reading in our home library, journalling in my studio or sitting outside in my backyard. I used to feel guilty ‘stealing’ these moments because I felt like once the family was all together after my husband got back from work, I shouldn’t split. But for a little more sanity this summer, I am splitting.

I’m an introverted mom of 3, and any introvert or mom of 3 will tell you that that is some messed up kind of paradox I am living. All year-round it’s a bit of an extra challenge for someone like me to pull myself out of my head and remember who is supposed to be where, anticipate their needs, find opportunities for their growth, support them each emotionally at various stages of development, forge into unknown territory (hello, preteenhood!), ensure their wellness (and so many more things that I don’t have time to list because skating camp is almost ending and my window for writing is closiiiiiiiiiing). But the number of summers I have left with all my babies under one roof goes down by 1 each year. I want to make them as fun for all of us as possible and I now see that my mental health is a prime factor in all of this.

Do you have tips for introverted moms who work from home during the summer? How do you keep your business afloat, get space to recharge and enjoy your family over the summer months? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear!

taslim jaffer writer

The Release Party | A New Play By Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group

If you’ve never heard of the Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group (RHYTAG), you’re missing out on something amazing happening right here in Vancouver, B.C. RHYTAG is the vision of Director/Playwright Valerie Methot to bring together the worlds of art and social change while engaging youth and the community in which they live. It’s every bit as awesome as it sounds.

“I strongly believe that young people have a lot of really important things to say,” Methot emphasized to me when we spoke on the phone about RHYTAG and the upcoming world premiere of the original play, The Release Party. “And it’s really important to me that we give them a forum . . . the utmost respectful environment to do that.” What Methot has done, essentially, is create a safe environment for youth to have their say, to produce a collaborative project while learning skills like script-writing, acting, set-building and everything else that goes into a first-class theatre production.

RHYTAG started strong 17 years ago; in year one, 50 youth showed up to the first workshop, prompting Methot to build Some Assembly Theatre, a company of professional artists, to support this project. “Our company is all about producing these plays to promote awareness and dialogue and wellness with regard to these issues that face young people.”

the release party, roundhouse youth theatre action group, rhytag, vancouver b.c., theatre
Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

The young artists range in age from 13 to 18 and don’t necessarily have prior theatre experience. The only requirement is that they are open to working in a group with mentors (older youth) and under the guidance of professional artists while committing to the schedule necessary to put on the productions. Commitment does not seem to be an issue for these talented and ambitious youth; some of them who started out in their early teens years ago are now hired by Methot.

When asked about RHYTAG’s place in the community, Methot replied, “I always want it to continue to grow and I see it as an important central pivot in the community. It’s a place where community members of all ages need to come together to listen to the young people. We have talkback sessions after every performance and over the 17 years I’ve been doing this, every year there are very moving testimonials from audience members who see themselves in our plays and are moved to tears because they have never felt part of the community before. This project really does bring community together.”

The New Play, The Release Party Runs From May 2-5

Some Assembly Theatre Company is proud to produce and present the world premiere of The Release Party from Wednesday, May 2 to Saturday, May 5 at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. Admission is FREE – your donations are appreciated. ** Seating is limited! For reservations, please contact Ken Lawson: 604-603-5237 |

The Release Party is a play based on real life – a story powerful enough to save lives. It is a celebration of youth expression in a pursuit to manage struggles with mental health, bullying, and suicide prevention. The Release Party inspires with bravery, exhilarating artistry, and hope for the future. Working in collaboration with professional artists, this play is written and performed by youth from diverse backgrounds including Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Greek, French, Russian, Kurdish, and Serbian.

the release party, roundhouse youth theatre action group, rhytag, taslim jaffer, vancouver b.c., theatre
Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

The story is based on ‘Wind’, a young First Nations artist, who is releasing her new single – and throws a party to celebrate. At the party, attendees are asked to perform their various talents, which leads to a life-changing experience they’ll never forget. The Release Party treats you to comedy, drama and brave dialogue along with entertaining dance, music, spoken word, rap, visual art, film, and parkour.

Watch The Trailer For The Release Party

The Audience Is Well Supported

At the play, you can expect to find many levels of support for audience members who may be triggered by what they see or hear on stage. Resource materials will be available as well as clinicians and counsellors provided by Vancouver Coastal Health, a key partner of Some Assembly Theatre. This truly is a project that follows through on their mission to promote change at the individual and community level; art and healing come together in fine fashion.

The Young Artists Of The Release Party

The Release Party is written and performed by the following youth from Vancouver and Surrey:  Christopher Rahim, Latisha Wadhams, Steven Cao, Cam Adriano, Carly Le, Nikita Gutman, Elodie Doumenc, Haley Christenson, Devana Petrovic, Sian Kilpatrick, Laurel Trueman and Josh Kennedy, who work in collaboration with industry professionals/artists Valerie Methot, Ken Lawson, Flick Harrison, Rup Sidhu, Jeremy Baxter, Anna Talbot, Athena Ivison, Nikki McLaren, and Allen Morrison. 

I had the pleasure of chatting with Laurel Trueman about the collaborative movement of RHYTAG and the value of her experience working with this group. “RHYTAG is such a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, different opinions and different levels of experience regarding the arts and writing . . . I’ve really learned working with such beautiful people. I’ve learned the value of giving someone space and hearing what they have to say and doing that, I’ve figured out there’s so much that I don’t know and so much that could be coming out in a collaborative project . . . that could make a project beautiful.”

Her articulate response made me think: As long as we have people coming together, offering space and collaboration and friendship, and as long as we continue to have challenging conversations in safe circles, we have hope for our future.

If you’re looking for something unique and meaningful yet engaging and entertaining to do with your teen, I can’t think of anything better.

For more information on Some Assembly Theatre Company, please visit them:





taslim jaffer writer





Dr. Shefali Is Coming To Vancouver | Conscious Parenting

I read my first parenting book when I was pregnant with baby #1. It was supposed to prepare me for the first year of my baby’s life. Instead it made me wonder if I could actually handle the responsibility of raising a child! My friend who gave it to me asked me what I thought of the book and I had to be honest; I told her that I felt like it was just telling me all the things that could go wrong. “Oh, you shouldn’t focus on that part,” she said. How could I not? YOU CAN SCREW THIS UP seemed to jump out at me from every page. (It was definitely not a book on conscious parenting!).  I guess those heart-stopping words were my own fear talking.

When I was a little girl, I wondered how my mom knew everything – from how to help me when I had a fever to what the different pieces of chicken were called.  When I’d ask her how she knew these things, she simply replied, “Because I’m a mom.” So, now here I was, about to become one myself, and I felt none the wiser. Just a whole lot more scared. Does this sound familiar to any of you?

Now I’m almost 11 years into motherhood with 3 kids: two in elementary school and one in preschool. So, I’m parenting a pre-teen, a classic ‘middle child’ syndrome kid and a preschooler who thinks the world revolves around her. And I guess it does. At least, in our home. I love them each to bits for who they are – and they truly are amazing human beings. But my journey as a mom started off really rocky to the point where sometimes I still feel shame when I see a new mom totally doting on her baby. Maybe I was all heart-eyes over my baby but I don’t remember. I just remember the difficult parts being really, really tough.

To this day, I question why I had such a challenging time raising babies and toddlers. Why couldn’t I just suck it up and enjoy being home with them when they were little? Why was I so eager to return to work? Why did I get angry and frustrated with them when they were just being…babies? Why did I cry on the kitchen floor all the time?

But you know what? These questions are good.

Dr. Shefali’s Conscious Parenting

I know the questions are good because when I take the time to answer them, I become more conscious of how I am parenting and why I am triggered. This is key for me. What was it about being a stay-at-home mom that made me feel angry? It wasn’t a baby needing to be breastfed around the clock. It was about me. Sure, it’s super tiring to meet the physical demands of a baby, but I know there was more to it than that. Also, when I am butting heads with a 3 year old, why does it sound like there are two 3 year olds in the room? Why can’t I step into my adult self instead of climbing back into the crib and reacting like a child? It’s taken me a long time to figure out the answers and I don’t have all of them yet but I’m starting to feel more supported by Dr. Shefali’s book, The Conscious Parent.

This isn’t to say that today I am a perfect parent who is in a totally elevated state of awareness and reacts to every situation in a way that positively impacts my children’s and my growth. Nope. It just means that I am becoming more aware of why I react to situations the way I do, what triggers me, what my own needs are as a person and how important it is to fulfill those. Most importantly, conscious parenting is an aspiration, something to work toward, and I am not expected to be perfect.

Last Night’s Facebook Live With Dr. Shefali

It was really cool to spend 15 minutes on Facebook Live with Dr. Shefali and listen to all the important topics she wants to cover when she comes here next month. I jotted down some notes as she spoke and I found these to be gems:

  • ultimately our children are a mirror showing us how conditioned we are by cultural fears
  • we can use the parent-child relationship to raise OURSELVES (it’s not about raising the kids)
  • the goal of this life is to become whole again as we were when we were kids

I also noted this realization: I see a lot of my child self in my kids and that is what triggers me.

If you missed the Facebook Live, here it is below! After you watch, I’d love it if you left a comment here to tell me something that resonated with you. (Also, this is just a geeky moment for me, but she actually said my name at the very end!) Then keep reading to find out how you can win a ticket to see her in person in Vancouver!

Join Me At Dr. Shefali’s Event In Vancouver

In Dr. Shefali’s New York Times best selling books ​she brings a fresh perspective to the parenting landscape, challenging the current paradigm it is steeped in and turning it on its head. Provocative, daring and evocative, her approach teaches parents how to raise themselves – first – into the most empowered and conscious before they hope to raise their children. Dr. Shefali believes that parents need to learn to heal their own emotional baggage and raise themselves into an elevated state of awareness before they raise their children. Dr. Shefali teaches parents the value of true connection over correction – eliminating archaic ideals of control and punishment.

To celebrate and share her remarkable work, my friend ​Kate Muker​ is hosting Dr. Shefali for a truly powerful evening where she will share a radically different approach to parenting that has transformed the lives of so many families. Whether you have a baby or a teen she will help you discover a new path to parent without fear or anxiety, learn to end conflict and motivate your children through connection.

If you are ready to shift the way you approach parenting, attend Dr. Shefali’s event in Vancouver on Sunday May 27th.

Join me at the event if you want to discover how to:

  • stop struggling as a parent and find more joy
  • deal with your controlling child
  • stop fighting over screens and designs
  • raise motivated, empowered, resilient and aware children

GRAB YOUR TICKETS HERE and let me know if I’ll see you!

If you’d like to take a chance at winning a ticket, head over to my Facebook contest (ends Sunday April 15 at 5 pm PST).

taslim jaffer writer





I’m proud to be a sponsor of Kate Muker’s quality, conscious events. All opinions are my own.

Eat. Lift. Thrive. by Sohee Lee: Book Review

‘Strong is the new skinny’ is a common phrase these days, sprawled across tank tops on sweaty bodies at the gym, and on memes floating around Facebook. I’m glad the emphasis has gone from losing weight to gaining strength. I’ve had my own up-and-down relationship with my body size and shape, particularly in the past 5 years. I’ve accepted that my body will likely never be what it was pre-babies…but now I’ve started imagining that I can be stronger than I ever have been. When I was given the opportunity to read and review Sohee Lee’s Eat. Lift. Thrive, I accepted it gratefully. I’m determined to make my 40’s about thriving, not just surviving. I’ve done a lot of emotional work in my 30’s and am shifting my attention now to a healthy, physical body that will take me deeper into the life I envision.

If I were to dissect the reason for ‘where I am today’ in terms of my fitness, I’d say I didn’t invest the time. I didn’t take the time to understand my body’s needs or how to create a sustainable healthy lifestyle that was best suited to me. Since last fall, I’ve been more conscious to incorporate more movement in my life but I haven’t quite nailed down my routine or a ‘food for fuel’ mindset.

Are you looking for an individualized workout and nutrition regime that is sustainable? Eat. Lift. Thrive is like a personal trainer in your pocket!

Part One Of Eat. Lift. Thrive: Reset Your Thinking

Lee’s book begins with what, I believe, is the perfect foundation for any book on fitness and nutrition: your mindset. It’s probably the section of the book I would read over several times. In a humorous, conversational tone, Lee debunks common fitness myths surrounding willpower (because don’t most of us think it’s about having enough willpower?), that it has to feel hard to be working, and that a fitness regime is all-or-nothing. I was so relieved to read these pages, you have no idea. I’ve been known to go from 6 days/week workouts and watching portions to completely binging for days and falling off the cardio bandwagon. It’s a devastating fall from grace, that one. Not only do I then tell myself, “See? I couldn’t do it,” I also feel frustrated that clothes that fit me just a couple weeks before become completely inaccessible.

Reading this part of the book made me realize that I’m not alone in this. And it earned my trust in Lee to continue reading through the coming chapters. I’m glad I did because not only did she debunk the myths, she filled the void with useful information in an easy-to-read voice. Her examples of ‘small, bite-sized habits’ right at the beginning of Eat. Lift. Thrive. immediately gave me the confidence that I could actually manage to make movement a part of my week. Her emphasis on not just getting healthy but staying healthy sounds like the perfect approach for me!

Part Two Of Eat. Lift. Thrive: Eat

The first chapter of this section is like a review of nutrition without being overwhelming or daunting. In fact, Lee doesn’t look closely at numbers (in terms of grams of protein, fats and carbs) so there isn’t that obsessive quality that some regimes have. She’s more concerned that we know how to read labels and know approximately how much we are eating. This makes sense and is truly empowering. I feel like this would eliminate a sense of failure because you are not counting each macronutrient down to each crumb.

After the nutrition review, Lee makes suggestions for long-term success with eating well and talks about my favourite food subject: moderation. I balk at the idea of giving up pizza, bread of any kind, and a nice cheesy lasagna. No, thanks. Needless to say, I devoured Lee’s ideas about incorporating these foods into my meal plan with no guilt or shame. Training ourselves to be intuitive eaters (which she expands on in this book) is way more helpful than an outright ban on some of our favourites. I will never again read or listen to anything that tells me I can’t eat certain foods.

Her actionable items at the end of each chapter in this section are priceless. They are simple and sensible, and I can see that implementing just one or two at a time will make some smart changes for me.

Part Three Of Eat. Lift. Thrive: Lift

The introductory page to this part begins with “Resistance training is the fountain of youth.” If that doesn’t intrigue you to read this entire section word for word, I don’t know what to say. I’m aging and I’m OK with it, but I’d like my body to be as young as possible for as long as possible. This isn’t about shedding fat, per se, but building confidence. Lee suggests that the weight room is all you need for a trimmer, stronger body. Aside from the physique, Lee shares many other benefits she has observed as someone who works closely with weight trainers. Her case studies are inspiring to read and, like all the information presented here, this entire section reads like a personal conversation.

My favourite chapter in this section is Chapter 8 where there are photographs of people modelling the different exercises along with the descriptions of target muscle groups, variations, and tips.

Part Four Of Eat. Lift. Thrive: Thrive

And the best part is putting it all together, with your mindset, your nutrition and your weights program, to be able to create programs for YOU. To create a sustainable, healthy lifestyle that works for YOU. This section pulls it all together to help you put to practice everything you’ve been learning.

Like I said, I’m interested in thriving and not just surviving. I’m tired of the on-again, off-again relationship I have with my own health.

My Three Favourite Parts

  • This book is EASY to read. It’s engaging and informative without being overwhelming.
  • I loved the photographs of the different exercises. Visuals are wonderful. Plus each movement is explained so well in the descriptions that you can literally teach yourself how to do it.
  • I loved that Lee created sample programs to make it super easy for anyone to get started. With an emphasis on individuality, these are just guidelines but how nice to have something to start with, even if you decide to modify anything.

I recommend Eat. Lift. Thrive by Sohee Lee to anyone who is tired of starting over but wants to give it a good, sustainable shot. Also, to anyone who already has a fitness regime but would like to up their game.

You can find Sohee Lee on Instagram. Check out her IG stories – some great stuff there!

I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

taslim jaffer writer


Onegin: Review Of The Hit Musical At Surrey Civic Theatres

Onegin, first of all, is not what you think. It’s not about gin, one or otherwise. And it took me almost half the show to realize that it is actually the name of one of the characters, pronounced On-YAY-gin. I should have watched this before the show:

But, to be honest, it was fun to have a good laugh at myself and to hear other patrons laughing about the same thing with their companions as we left the theatre. Among the jokes about the mispronunciations were some noteworthy comments about the story, the music, the set, the costumes and more. In two words, the entire production was supremely impressive. In more words, I would see this show several times if given the opportunity.

What Is Onegin?

Onegin is inspired by a poem and opera from the 1800’s. Evgeni Onegin, a handsome man not willing to be tied down by love, visits the Larin family estate to meet his friend’s fiancee. There, Onegin meets Tatyana, a shy bookish girl ready to be swept away into the new and delicious world of romance. Onegin’s visit stirs up more than just passion! Much drama pursues among unforgettable musical numbers and convincing performances that completely immersed me in long-ago Russia.

The press release for this show described this hit musical as a rock concert, back kitchen party and love poem. I couldn’t describe it any other way. Seven cast members and three musicians shared one stage, and created layers and layers of art, beginning with the opening number in which they declare: “We hope to please, we hope to charm, we hope to break you open.” And they most certainly did!

My Favourite Scene

Prior to seeing the show, I read The Georgia Straight’s review which proclaimed, “You’re lucky to be alive right now…because you get to see Onegin.” I thought this was a bit dramatic. Then I saw the show and I really do feel lucky to have seen it. The music alone was well worth it. My favourite song was Let Me Die when Tatyana spends her first night after meeting him pining for him, writing feverishly in her journal about her desires, fighting that voice inside her that begs her to get a grip on herself.

Here’s a taste of that song:

Now imagine sitting just rows away from Tatyana on stage with her voice reaching to the far ends of the theatre, able to see her every facial expression and movement as she wrestles with what she wants and what she isn’t sure she can have. It was breathtaking.
onegin, onegin review at surrey civic theatres, onegin review, surrey civic theatres, surrey bc, taslim jaffer writer, taslim jaffer
Photo Credit: David Cooper
Kudos to creators Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille on their incredible success! In an interview with Hille she explained, “When we started writing Onegin, I was ready to dive into grand romance. This show has let me feel things I haven’t in ages. Sprawling, messy feelings that led to soaring melodies and hot dreams and some pretty fervent singing.”
Produced through the Arts Club’s Silver Commissions Project (developing new plays since 2006), Onegin collected ten wins at the 2016 Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, making history as the first production to win all but one of the awards in the large theatre category. Now that deserves a standing ovation!

Bravo! And a special shout-out to all the cast and musicians who made this vision come alive.

onegin, onegin review at surrey civic theatres, surrey arts scene, surrey bc, taslim jaffer writer, taslim jaffer
Photo Credit: David Cooper

Cast: Lauren Jackson (Tatyana Larin), Jonathan Winsby (Evgeni Onegin), Erik Fraser Gow (Vladimir Lensky), Meaghan Chenosky (Olga Larin and others), Caitriona Murphy (Madame Larin and others), Andrew Wheeler (Prince Gremin and others), and Nadeem Phillip (many others).

Musicians: Barry Mirochnick (percussion and guitar), Jennifer Moersch (cello) and Marguerite Witvoet (piano and keyboards).

My husband and I turned this into a date night and we will definitely do it again. I’m glad that we can stay on this side of the bridge and be entertained by the vibrant arts scene in Surrey.
To check out what’s playing now and in the near future, visit the Surrey Arts Centre’s ticket information site.
I received complimentary tickets to this show in exchange for an honest review. I am proud to partner with Surrey Civic Theatres. Join them on Facebook so you don’t miss a show!

Did you catch my other reviews?

taslim jaffer writer





Women’s Heart Health: It’s Time We Were Part Of The Conversation

When I hear the words ‘heart attack’ I automatically think of a man. Not necessarily an older man, because young men (in their 30s and 40s) in my family have had heart attacks. And my father-in-law died suddenly from coronary artery disease just after his 65th birthday. But still…I don’t instantly think of my female second cousin who suffered a heart attack years ago. Or even the women in my family who are on cholesterol-lowering medication. It wasn’t until I read the Heart & Stroke 2018 Heart Report, released at the beginning of this month, that I asked myself, “Why not? Why don’t we think about women’s heart health?”

The conversation needs to begin with research; two thirds of heart disease clinical research focuses on men and is then applied to the entire population. But not all hearts are created equal, and there are significant differences between the sexes. This means, we don’t have enough information about our leading cause of death. As a result, women’s heart health is under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-supported. Ladies, it’s not great news. According to Yves Savoie, CEO of Heart & Stroke, “Women’s hearts are still misunderstood. We are decades behind in our knowledge of the differences between men’s and women’s hearts.”

I am sharing this information with you because when I learned about it, it shocked me. I honestly had no idea of this discrepancy, or that women’s hearts are different from men’s. I just assumed that when I or my female relatives go see the doctor about our health concerns, our sex was taken into account and we were treated differently. It makes sense to me now, after reading the report, that women’s heart health is unique subject matter. But the diagnostic tests we take (like the treadmill test) are not nearly sensitive enough to detect issues in women. And when we do require treatment after a heart attack, less than 1/3 of us receive it within time guidelines.

I have heart disease on both sides of my family; as a South Asian Canadian this is not surprising. According to the recent report, South Asian, Chinese and Afro-Caribbean women have higher rates of heart disease and poorer outcomes compared to Caucasian Canadians. As well, Indigenous women in Canada are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease.

This is all super grim, I realize, but as a woman I feel like I need to know this. It’s only by learning these statistics, hearing stories shared by women who have lived through these experiences and heeding their advice can I continue to advocate for my best health.

Some Facts About Canadian Women’s Heart Health

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death for Canadian women.
  • Every 20 minutes a woman in Canada dies of heart disease.
  • 5 times more women die from heart disease than breast cancer.
  • Early heart attack signs were missed in 78% of women.
  • Women who have a heart attack are more likely to suffer or die from a second heart attack than men.

The report covers a lot more and I encourage you to look at it. Knowledge is always power.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m approaching 40 but I’m thinking about my health in a different way than I have in the past. It’s a good thing, though. I know it’s not 100% in my hands but I can at least try for optimal health.

I’m going to be focusing on specific areas and sharing my journey in different ways with you.

4 Healthy Lifestyle Choices I Am Focusing On

  • Eating well
  • Moving
  • Reducing stress
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

What are some of your health goals? Ladies, how are you keeping your heart in top shape? Please share with me in the comments!

taslim jaffer writer