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


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





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





Bergmann Piano Duo: 4 Hands, 2 Pianos, 1 Incredible Performance

On February 15, I was invited to enjoy just over an hour of live piano music at Surrey Civic Theatres, skillfully delivered by Surrey-based pianists Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann. The 129-seat Studio Theatre is intimate and comfortable and exactly the place you want to experience a performance by the Bergmann Piano Duo. I love live music because – other than the exceptional sound quality – watching musicians in their element, doing what they love, has such an impact on my soul.

I love to see live performances at Surrey Civic Theatres. Here's my review of the Bergmann Piano Duo.

Observing Elizabeth and Marcel non-verbally communicate across the bells of the gorgeous grand pianos was fascinating in itself. Pianists play, not just with their hands, but with their faces and whole bodies; being able to witness the nods, facial expressions and synchronized breaths so close up was awesome!

Elizabeth and Marcel are international performers who have played throughout North America and Europe. They are also Artistic Directors of White Rock Concerts and are on faculty at the Langley Community Music School. Marcel arranges the music for their CD collection and live performances, and it’s obvious he and Elizabeth are a dynamic pair when they make those pieces come alive.

This clip gives you a taste of their chemistry as they talk about their musical life together. You don’t even have to be a fan of piano to appreciate how amazing it must be to share a life with someone equally passionate about an art.

At The Movies With The Bergmann Piano Duo

The show I attended was called ‘At The Movies’ and highlighted selections from West Side Story (L. Bernstein, arr. M. Bergmann), The Big Country (J. Moross, arr. M. Bergmann), Oblivion (A. Piazzolla, arr. M. Bergmann), The Mission (E. Morricone, arr. M. Bergmann) and An American in Paris (G. Gershwin). Though I was only familiar with West Side Story, the narration and synopses by David Mann provided enough context to help me understand the mood of the pieces that followed. I noted that The Mission and An American in Paris sound like great films; it would be fun to watch them now that I have a taste of the music that weaves throughout the stories.

The Bergmann Piano Duo is playing again at Surrey Civic Theatres on Thursday April 19, accompanied by vocalist and actress Onalea Gilbertson. In the cabaret-style show, From Berlin to Hollywood, the audience is treated to selections from the Threepenny Opera and other hits. Afterward, there is even a chance to mingle with the Bergmanns!

Bergmann Piano Duo, Surrey Civic Theatres, surrey bc, taslim jaffer, taslim jaffer writer, surrey arts scene

Excuse me if I sound a little dreamy, but the curved bells of the piano in an embrace under theatre lights set quite the stage for my brief middle-of-the-work-day escape. I had slipped into my seat in the Studio Theatre after teaching a writing workshop and next on my list was a phone call with a client; the interlude felt like an opening of my creative self. I sailed into my phone meeting feeling invigorated and inspired. And that is the true beauty of art – it reaches into all the other parts of your life, even the tired, empty spaces, and fills them with energy.

Do you like to watch live performances? What was the last show (musical, theatrical) you saw? Tell me in the comments!

Watch this space for more suggestions of what to see and be sure to check out my other reviews.

I received a ticket to the show in exchange for my honest review. I’m proud to partner with Surrey Civic Theatres. You can find them on Facebook here.

taslim jaffer writer 




Bittergirl, The Musical: A Review

I’ve got the Supremes singing Where Did Our Love Go through my laptop’s speakers right now – the perfect girl-group accompaniment to my review of what was a hilarious and touching show. Until I read the program I didn’t realize that the 3 main characters are based on the the writers themselves, one of whom was divorced, another dumped by her long-time live-in boyfriend and the third whose recent romance went up in flames. Knowing the background made the experience even better, more real – though without that information you are still guaranteed to find either yourself or your girlfriends in these characters. We’ve all been her – the girl going through a heartbreak, trying to pick up the pieces and glue them all back together. Sometimes doing ridiculous things to ourselves. Cleaning too much. Maybe a little stalkery. Yeah, they captured it all in Bittergirls: The Musical.

You may have heard of Bittergirls from its previous incarnation as the smash-hit play bittergirl that toured London to New York City and had three sold-out runs in Toronto. The success of the play prompted the writers, Annabel Fitzsimmons, Alison Lawrence and Mary Francis Moore to share their stories in a relationship advice book called BITTERGIRL: Getting Over Getting Dumped, which was published in 2005 and also was wildly successful.

So, what to do after your play and your book soar to the sky? Create a musical, of course! Fitzsimmons, Lawrence and Moore did this spectacularly with a 60’s and 70’s soundtrack that will have you at least humming along. The song lineup included some of my favourites from The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Crystals and so many more. Basically, it was a soundtrack that reminded me I was totally born in the wrong music era. How fun to have it all come together on a beautiful set, with incredible voices and impressive acting.

Let’s talk about the set for a minute. You know what blew me away? How simple it was. How very few props were needed to transform a simple stage to an aerobics class or the bushes outside an ex-lover’s home. (Seriously, you just have to see it to know what I’m talking about). The simplicity of the set really drove home the idea that you don’t need much when the talent is sky-high.

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The three actresses were literally a harmonious match; from the first note of the first song and throughout both acts, they blew me away with how their voices weaved through each other, never one overpowering the other unless it was called for in the song. And their script – there were times when all 3 of them had to say the exact same thing at the exact same time in the exact same tone…and they did it! I would have loved to watch their rehearsals as they practiced that because I am sure there were some serious bloopers. (Anyone reading this from the creative team? Valerie Easton, the director? I really think you should add a ‘blooper reel’ that is acted out live on stage after the production). Kudos to Lauren Bowler, Katrina Reynolds and Cailin Stadnyk – you gals were amazing! And of course, ‘the guy’ who played 3 guys, Josh Epstein, you did your job well! Thanks for letting us laugh at you.

The musicians who sat in the top corner – Diane Lines on piano, Madeleine Elkins on guitar, NoeLani KeAloha on drums and Linda Kidder on bass – were wonderful.

I had a great time reviewing the touring Arts Club Theatre at Surrey Arts Centre. You can find out when they’ll be in your part of the Lower Mainland as they make their rounds until March 15, 2017.

taslim jaffer, let me out creative




Kinky Boots – Broadway In Vancouver: A Review

Ladies! Gentlemen! And all those who have YET to decide!

On February 9, 2017 I caught my first musical of the year: Broadway hit, Kinky Boots – a flashy, showy delight with entertaining and poignant musical numbers. There couldn’t have been a better show to set the stage for 2017! (It’s definitely set the bar high being the winner of 6 Tony Awards, including BEST MUSICAL!)

This is the story of Charlie Price, son of a shoemaker with no interest in following in his father’s footsteps. He leaves his home in Northampton, lured by the more exciting prospects of London living and, more honestly, by his materialistic fiancee, Nicola. But his father’s death yanks him back and proclaims him the owner of Price & Sons, the last place on earth he feels he belongs.

Enter: Lola. A vibrant drag queen who is absolutely comfortable in her skin – but not in her boots made for female bodies. A chance meeting between Charlie and Lola sets both destinies in motion but the road is bumpy with ignorance, fear, and childhood trauma. Kinky Boots is a timely backdrop for current issues that plague society, but with messages that had the audience clapping, exclaiming, and in the end, on their feet for a well-deserved standing ovation.

[Tweet “@KinkyBootsBway: If you can change your mind, you can change the world. #IntermissionTweets”]

It was a pleasure to be swept up in the many sides of Cyndi Lauper through her music and lyrics for this performance. From wild and lively to heartrending and mellow, the score is truly spectacular.

And those BOOTS! To take the name of one of their songs, ‘the sex is in the heel’, and those boots were all that! Wonderful artistry by costume designer Gregg Barnes, hair designer Josh Marquette and make-up designer Randy Houston Mercer. Well done!

Of course, without the enormous talents of the performers the magic of this show would not have been what it was. Hats off to Curt Hansen (Charlie Price), J. Harrison Ghee (Lola), Tami Dahbura (Trish), Katerina Papacostas (Nicola) and the rest of the crew that brought this story to life. They worked together with incredible chemistry and talent; their desire to give their audience the greatest show they could was evident from the first scene.

The young boys who played Young Charlie and Young Lola – Landon Maas and Sebastian Maynard-Palmer, respectively – blew my mind! Learning that this was Landon’s National Tour Debut made my own mama heart burst! And Sebastian already has quite an impressive dance and performance resume in the fourth grade! Truly, the arts are the backbone of any civilization, and the involvement of these young actors indicates that our civilization is alive and well! Congratulations to them and I am sure I’ll see them on stage again!

Thank you, Kinky Boots, for starting my musical year off so well!

taslim jaffer, let me out creative