You should go and see Evangeline

Fraser McCallum, personable communications manager at the Confederation Centre of the Arts (and Charlottetown’s foremost cardigan-wearer) flagged me down on the street earlier this week.

“Would you be interested in tickets to a preview of Evangeline?” he asked.

Evangeline being the second-coming of the Ted Dykstra-created grand dérangement musical, launched originally in 2013 and back at the Centre this fall for a revivified production.

Fraser was brave in making this offer, no doubt aware that I have a conflictual relationship with my bedmates here at The Guild, Anne and Gilbert, whose carrying on I am subjected to delighted by several times a week during theatre season.

I love Anne and Gilbert like siblings. And yet often wish they were dead. Such is life in as closely packed a family as ours.

I am not, in other words, a universally well-regarded appreciator of musical theatre.

And yet Fraser was confident (or foolhardy) enough to invite me to voluntarily inflict musical theatre upon myself.

Which is how I found myself sitting beside Catherine in Row J of the main stage at the Confederation Centre on Wednesday night waiting for the lights to dim and the rousing choruses to begin.

Going in, there was a roughly equal chance that I’d either hate it with the very core of my being or that I’d irrationally fall in love with it.

Spoiler: I irrationally fell in love with it.


This has been a season of grand dérangement for us: in May we accidentally happened upon Grand Pré, Nova Scotia while on a weekend trip and learned, through Parks Canada’s excellent interpretation, the story of the Acadian expulsion. And, what’s more, got to experience the stunning landscape of the area and come to understand more about why it might once have been regarded as a paradise on earth.

Grand Pré

Evangeline is a story that starts in Grand Pré and follows history through the expulsion, and eventual return, knitting everything together against the canvas of the thwarted love of Evangeline and Gabriel.

And it is epic.

Both as a story, and as a production.

The performances are epic. The music is epic. The costumes are epic.

The staging – whirling roundabouts and raising sails and wharfs that turn into huts that turn into mountains – is epic too.

But things didn’t start off well for me.

While I understand the necessity of speaking in distilled essences rather than finely drawn characters, the “here are the happy people of Acadie in their happy fiddle-playing idyll” was too much of a caricature for my taste, and didn’t sufficiently establish why Acadie was such a unique place with a long history. As so much of the drama of the tale depends on this, I wished that this part of the story had been stronger.

But things improved from that misstep, and by intermission, with the Acadians expelled and Evangeline and Gabriel pulled apart, I was left eagerly wondering what would happen next.

There were, in other words, no thoughts of escape during intermission.

The second act is where the real heart of Evangeline lies. In some ways it seems like an entirely different musical, and could almost exist as a self-contained piece.

The set is more inventively used, the music is more finely woven into the plot, the trekking back and forth across the eastern United States, which could have been plodding and dull, was, through imaginative staging, thrilling.

I unreservedly loved the second act, from opening until the rousing close.

And yet, it was musical theatre. What was happening to me?

What I realized, halfway through the first act, is that to enjoy musical theatre at all requires a suspension of the sense of its core absurdity, that being the notion that it’s a completely normal thing for song to break out at the drop of a hat.

It also helped to realize that what in a documentary about the grand dérangement could be communicated through narration must be telegraphed through other means in a musical, and so getting comfortable with the musical theatre tropes that are used for this, and relaxing into them, was a great help as well.

Which is also, perhaps, why my comfort with the second act was much greater than with the first: I was putting on a new set of clothes, and I needed to get used to them.

All epic, rousing, consuming, dramatic panorama aside, there’s another very good reason to love Evangeline, and that is because it’s an engaging musical about Canada, and a work of art that, perhaps for the first time in a generation, sees the Confederation Centre theatrically living up to its mandate to “celebrate the origins and evolution of Canada as a nation.”

Evangeline runs until October 10 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts (tickets); it also runs October 31 to November 22 at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre (tickets).

You really should go and see it.


The 3000 km Walk to School

Oliver started grade 9 at Birchwood this week, his last year at intermediate school, and the 9th year we’ve been walking up Prince Street together every morning.  As with last year, Ethan’s not quite ready to start school yet (soon; very soon!), but he still walks to school with us every morning.

Nine years, 180 days a year, 2 km there and back every morning: that’s 3,240 km of walking. Our morning walk is the most important time we spend together every single day; I wouldn’t trade those kilometers for anything.

Grade Nine, 2015

Oliver (and Ethan), on the first day of Grade 9

Grade Eight, 2014

First Day of Grade Eight

Grade Seven, 2013

First Day of Grade 7

Grade Six, 2012

First Day of Grade 6

Grade Five, 2011

First Day of Grade 5

Grade One, 2007

The King of Prince Street

Upstreet: a neighbourhood pub, with better aesthetics

Let’s stipulate for the record, before I begin, that I’ve no great fondness for beer.

If basil went extinct, I would be gutted. If I could never drink another beer, well, meh.

There are some few small exceptions: a stark beer over Indian food with Olle in Malmö brings back good memories. And having a beer while watching a movie, sitting in a lounge chair, on a warm summer night, in the field at Freiluftkino Kreuzberg in Berlin is a singular pleasure.

But otherwise, meh. Especially when you start talking about chocolate afternotes, hoppiness, percentages of alcohol.

Which is why nobody is more surprised than I that I’ve become a fan of Upstreet Craft Brewing, the new Charlottetown brewery that is, as it happens, about 20 minutes walk up the street from our house.


Although it’s been operating all summer long, yesterday was a sort of coming out party for Upstreet: it held a self-styled “block party” and invited the neighbourhood to stop in, have a beer, a haircut, some food, and a brewery tour, all while local musicians played on a stage in the parking lot. Catherine and Oliver and I spent the afternoon there; it was great fun.

The thing about Upstreet is that you need not have a taste for beer to enjoy its many other pleasures.

The free-play PacMan game. The wall of board games. The comfortable, solid wooden chairs. The spotlessly clean washrooms. The friendly staff. The invitation to get some food from the Thai Pad food truck in the parking lot and bring it inside to eat. The attention to the small details of typography and design that permeates.

In this light it’s interesting to contrast Upstreet with the longer-established PEI Brewing Company across town. PEI Brewing’s overarching style is more “Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge for beer drinkers” whereas Upstreet’s is “neighbourhood pub, but with better aesthetics.”  PEI Brewing is monumental; Upstreet is to scale.

All of which kind of makes me wish that I did have a greater fondness for beer, as I think I’d appreciate Upstreet all the more. 

That said, I’ve certainly sampled their beer, and if I was to be captured by some beer-mandatory cargo cult, I wouldn’t mind that much if it was their beer of choice: it’s sprightly, inspiring, with definite overtones of morning dew and existential angst and a finish that evokes Mahler’s earlier works.

I made all that up.

Well, not the cargo cult part. But the part about the Mahler.

Upstreet is a welcome addition to our neighbourhood.

SSH to an EC2 Instance via Alfred

This may a task limited to me, but in case it’s not, here’s my goal:

  1. I have a collection of identical Amazon EC2 instances, all sharing the same “name” tag for identification; together they make up a Drupal server farm for a single site.
  2. I want to SSH to one of the instances – it doesn’t matter which one – so that I can execute some drush commands.

Heretofore my procedure has been cumbersome, involving logging in to the EC2 dashboard on the web, filtering my long list of instances by name, copying the external DNS name from one of the instance to the clipboard, and then pasting this, as part of an SSH command, to the terminal.

What I’ve done to streamline this, using Alfred and the AWS CLI, is this:

I set up an Alfred workflow, with the trigger keyword d7:

Alfred App Workflow Setup

The workflow triggers a Terminal command:

ssh -t -p 22 -i 'keypair.pem' \
ec2-user@`aws ec2 describe-instances --profile clientname --filters "Name=tag:Name,Values=name-filter"  \
--output text \
--query 'Reservations[*].Instances[*].PublicDnsName' | tail -n 1` \
"sudo su - apache"

Where, in my case, the components of the above are:

  • keypair.pem is the name of the EC2 keypair I used with SSH to login to the instance
  • ec2-user is the username I want to use to SSH to the instance
  • clientname is an AWS CLI profile name that provides credentials
  • name-filter is the name that the pool of instances I want to select from share in common

This command has the effect of using the AWS CLI to look up the external DNS names of all of the instances in this pool, grabbing the last one, and then SSHing to that instances and su’ing to the apache user.

So now I just trigger Alfred (Control + Space) and type d7 and press ENTER. Presto.

Alfred Workflow

All of this presupposes that you’ve already set up the AWS CLI and ensured it’s working for you.

Art in the Open 2015

Oliver and I enjoyed another excellent iteration of Art in the Open, Charlottetown’s yearly end-of-summer outdoor site-specific art-infused celebration.

There were houses in trees, and surround-sound circles, and cocoon hammocks, and visualizations of magnetic vs. true north. There were crows, of course, and sewing machine art, and tin types, and buildings made out of recycled materials, and a Morse code booth.

Each was my favourite, in its own way.

My favourite experience of the evening, though, was sitting around a fire with Oliver and Ethan at the end of the long, perfect, summer day in Victoria Park, under a reddish full Moon.