Apr 7, 2017

790 Bay Street




Take a walk by 790 Bay Street in Toronto and you’ll see why most people would never give it a second look. There's nothing distinctive about it, nothing to draw your interest, excitement or imagination. In fact, it's rather utilitarian and sad, nondescript, ordinary, featureless.

It's a mid-century modern-style building from the late 1950s, and it was built as the Canadian offices of the Continental Can Company. Then, it was sold and refurbished to make money from tenanting.

It's a drab, eleven-story building situated on a standard, street corner and there's nothing special about it. Not in architecture, styling, location or presence. Today, it's a simple medical building that exudes nothing in character, history, culture or elegance. It just is.

Yet, this building is a-part of Toronto's history and it is a major part of Canada's storytelling legacy. For this building housed the creative offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during the 1970s and ‘80s, until the new CBC Broadcast Centre was built on Front Street.

The CBC offices at 790 Bay Street became the nucleus of television production in Canada. Here, television drama was created, current affairs and documentary programs were innovated, television specials were instigated, and crews were sent out all over the world to bring back stories and footage from everywhere. It was here that the productions were edited and post-produced, ready for broadcast to the nation.

This building housed, not just production offices for writers, producers, directors and staff, but other floors where film camera units were ready for action, editing rooms were assembling shot footage, screening rooms, negative cutting rooms and sound editing rooms were in a huddle creating and finishing programming. There were camera maintenance departments, film evaluation rooms, scheduling offices and travel offices. Throughout the many floors the CBC rented in this office building, there was a total production facility, from script to screen.

This was hub of creative and artistic talent and anyone who was anyone, the Who's Who in Canadian production, walked these unassuming corridors.

And from 1971 to 1986 this building was the epicenter of my career.

Here, I learned how to be an assistant cameraman, a camera operator and a Director of Photography. Here, I learned to be an international cinematographer, sent around the globe, to return with stories within the many cans of film that I shot.

We would be sent to the jungles of the South Pacific, across the iron curtain into the heart of communist countries, across the oceans and continents to hunt out the most interesting of stories, from the wine-making vineyards of California’s Napa Valley to the high speed rail systems of Europe. And each story had it’s own drama, happy moments and sorrow, birth and death. We were sent everywhere across the USA and we explored and documented every inch of our own country of Canada, from sea, to sea to sea. It was a busy world and we were shipped off for months, weeks and days.

Everything that stemmed from 790 Bay Street, for me, was the greatest of education. The subjects were endless and the people I worked with and documented were fascinating.

Here I also learned the essence of drama cinematography, and I would build my resume of television series, TV drama and movies for television.

The building itself was filled with life. When I came home from an assignment, I would sit with the editors who became my friends. I might climb the stairs to the drama department to see what productions were in the works. Sometimes I would get a call from a friend who was producing documentaries or have a coffee with a scheduling clerk. Then, there were the wrap parties and the office Christmas parties, one on each floor. I had a blast at every one. Friendships were made and lost, we loved, we cried, we laughed, we created together. Where are they all now?

In 1985, I left the CBC to become a freelance Director of Photography, but a year later I was asked back to shoot a lawyer-based TV series.

Then, in 1986, I ended my CBC days and never looked back. I had learned what I could, and had traveled the world. It had been a charmed life of adventure, knowledge and creativity. Not long after, the CBC moved out of 790 Bay Street and into their new production facility on Front Street.

Today, nothing remains of the CBC’s involvement with 790 Bay Street except in the minds of the many people who worked and created there.

Much like the workings of a drama where sets are designed and erected to bring a story to life, then they are torn down when the production is finished, 790 Bay Street was discarded and cast away in the same way. It was of its time and nothing more.

It is now a medical building, helping bring wellness to thousands who remain unaware of the history it holds.

So take a walk by 790 Bay Street in Toronto and see a place that, for one shining moment, gave Canada and the world a touch of film magic.

Mar 17, 2017

Who Wrote Shakespeare


Recently I was asked to participate in a debate on the works of William Shakespeare, and who really wrote them.

Having read many articles and listened to many speeches, points-of view and videos on the subject, I felt that I could take either side in the argument. Also, over the years, I have attended at least half of all the plays of Shakespeare, some of them many times, and I know his sonnets and poetry well.

The affirmative side of the argument simply states that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote all the works, plays, stories, sonnets, poems, and any other writings attributed to him.

The counter argument speculates that because there is very little written down or known about Shakespeare, he could not have written these great works. It is stressed that he had very little schooling, didn’t travel, was a country bumpkin and just an actor, a thespian who lacked the culture, knowledge and education to have written the works. On the other hand, Christopher Marlow, a theatre writer and a contemporary of Shakespeare, the Earl of Oxford, a well-educated and well-traveled writer, Sir Francis Bacon, a brilliant philosopher, writer, politician, thinker and futurist, and Ben Johnson, a well-respected playwright, among others, are cited as worthy scholars to have written the works of Shakespeare.

I decided to argue the affirmative; that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon indeed wrote all the writings attributed to him. The problem was, I only had four minutes to make my point. I did this by bringing the whole story down to earth as a simple story about a highly creative individual.

First let's see what we know of the life of Shakespeare.

He was born William Shaks-pere on April 23rd 1564 in Stratford upon Avon, England, the son of a merchant, a glover, a town alderman. It is assumed that he attended Stratford Grammar School, but no records remain. At the age of 18, he fell in love with his sweetheart Anne Hathaway; she was 25. They got married and had three children. Sometime later he left home to look for work in London. Not much more is known of William. Anything could have happened in the life of this young man.

Many years later we find him on the London stage, an actor, writer, producer, and theatre owner. At the age of 49 he returns to Stratford as a rich retiree. He dies in 1616 at the tender age of 52. 

And that is most of what is know of the life of William Shakespeare. His life remains mainly undocumented. A bit of an enigma.

My argument follows a creative life and embellishes moments that could quite easily have been lived by William. These moments are lived by most creative people, especially the ones who become the "exceptional ones", the ones we call ‘Genius.’

The debate begins.
Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare

He was born William Shaks-pere in 1564, in a small market town with no cinema, library, theatre, or cultural activities except for the odd traveling circus, theatre company, comedy show or wandering minstrel.

William was a creative soul, and a creative is filled with energy, curiosity and
a hunger to find his calling: Something where he can plow all his energies into creating something in a meaningful way.

I suggest that young William got caught up in the magic of a traveling theatre. He was bedazzled by the stories, the actors, the workings of the stage and the creativity of it all. I think young William saw the potential in something that excited him. So he later took off for London to join the theatre.

What followed were his lost years where not much is known. Anything could have happened in the life of this young man. So I will give you this scenario.

As a young boy he read lots of books and wrote many stories and poems. At school he read books, he participated in school plays, he acted out stories with his friends.
No wonder he was hooked on the theatre.

He went to London and studied to become an actor, changing his name to William Shakespeare. It sounded better for an actor, "Shake your spear."

He wouldn't be the only person to change his name. Archie Leitch changed his name to Cary Grant, Samuel Clements changed his name to Mark Twain, Lady Ga Ga is really Stefani Germanotta and of course Reggie Dwight became Elton John.

As an actor, William would hang around with the folks of the town. The good guys, the bad guys. He may even have known people from other countries, i.e. Italy, Denmark. He may have taken a trip to Italy or Denmark. We really don’t know. But who's to say he didn't? He may have been so taken with Italy that he decided to set many of his plays there. We just don’t know.

He was surrounded by creative people, actors, writers, directors, producers in London. He may have paid a tutor or a teacher, or even befriended a mentor to help him learn and fine tune his use of the English language. "A good teacher teaches you how to teach yourself." From here he would collaborate on writing plays for his theatre. As a creative artist he would be continually learning. The more he did, the more he learned, the better he got, and like all great artists he became a master at what he loved to do.

He didn't have to go to university, he was in the university or the school of life. He was surrounded by street life, culture and great characters. They were in every doorway, pub or within the tales of the great storytelling culture of his age.

Beethoven never went to university, nor did other highly creative genius
composers such as Mozart, writers like Charles Dickens, Robbie Burns or Mark Twain. Winston Churchill, who was a great writer, never went to university.

As a creative individual, William Shakespeare had an internal drive to be better and he was surrounded with great stories, from the street, from traveler’s, from friends, from hear-say and from his own imagination.

He wrote plays, he collaborated on plays, he acted, directed, produced and
was a partner in a theatre company. He was a very busy man for many years. Until one day, he was so burnt out that he decided he couldn't take it any more. He left everything behind in London and retired back to Stratford, to a quiet life; a very rich man. And he took back his real name of William Shaks-Pere

He died three years later at the age of 52. He had written 38 plays, 154 Sonnets -
and whatever else he wrote is gone; lost in time

Most writers rarely get good credit for their plays or movies. Can anyone remember the person who wrote Steven Spielberg's last movie? Or Alfred Hitchcock's writer? We remember Walt Disney, but how about the many writers who wrote his movies? It wasn't until ten years after Shakespeare's death that his theatre friends got together to publish some of his works. Because they thought he was so good.

No! Other people did not write Shakespeare - William Shake-Pere of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote Shakespeare.

There was a recent study undertaken by a university in the United States that compared the writings of Shakespeare on computer, to all the other people who were speculated to have written his plays.

The conclusion:  William Shakespeare wrote those plays. No one else came close to his style, class or substance.

The study is online. Go see it.


NOTE.
While I fully support the merit and affirmative side of this issue, if need be, I could quite easily argue the other side of the story. It is a mystery that needs to be explored with an open mind, fully knowing that in the end there may never be a definitive answer.



BRIAN’S RANT
There is a great ignorance of creative artists among the ranks of the general public. Creatives are the misfits, the eccentrics, the troubled people of society. So-called normal people really don’t know how to slot them in the file system. They pass them off as being “different” while trying to ignore them. In many cases they are shunted around and rarely understood while they create their magic. In other cases they are the heads of highly successful companies that lead through innovation.

Most creative people would gladly do their work for nothing because they love what they do, and they usually do it well. This is why they are quite often short changed, bargained down, diminished, cheapened. If a creative artist does become popular and reaps the benefits by drawing in the money, he or she is hounded, degraded and made to feel that he or she doesn't deserve the wealth. They are even belittled by their own class. Yet, their products become commodities that are highly valued by financial sharks.

Then the true creative artists become so overworked and burnt out that they can't  stand the people they are working for or with, and they find it difficult to continue to create. They are finally put out to pasture.

During their lifetimes, creatives make a major difference by enhancing their world in a significant and profound way.

We remember ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt by the art, the artisans and the architects who designed their edifices, their carvings and paintings. We find old cultures and religions through their writings, art and philosophies. We find ancient paintings in caves, jewelry and pottery, and we are left a wealth of literature and musical works from creative masters and those we label as genius.

We have no lasting memory of the accountants, the bankers, the politicians, the lawyers or the civil servants who control our world. They are the insignificant ones.

The ones who are truly significant are the creatives; for they have made our world.

While I will never discount the value of a good education, learning in itself does not always come from educators or institutions. And this is proven every day by the individuals who rise to greatness through the basic human traits like curiosity, willfulness and gravitas. Some people are constant learners no matter with what they are involved. Usually, the creatives are the ones who defy the schools. They are the slow ones when it comes to grasping academics, yet when they latch onto a subject that interests them, they fly with it and excel through their willingness to try something new and innovative.

Take Winston Churchill. He was not a very good student. So-much-so that his father, Lord Randolph Churchill thought he would never amount to very much.  When he finally left school he couldn’t pass the entrance exams for university, but he had just enough education to be admitted to the army.

However, Winston’s interest lay in adventure and writing, and in this he excelled. He used the army as a spring board to be a war correspondent and by the time he was in his mid-twenties, he saw combat on three continents, rose in the ranks to Lieutenant, won four medals, was mentioned in military despatches, wrote five books - one of them a novel - gained international fame as a war-correspondent, and won a seat in Parliament, all before his twenty-sixth birthday. Churchill later went on to become a landscape painter, a major writer of history books and an accomplished speaker.

From there we know the rest of the story. Churchill used creativity to propel him through life, until he finally became Prime Minister of Great Britain and a war-time leader who was at the forefront to win the war over one of the most evil regimes in history.


QUOTES

We are such stuff as dreams are made on,
and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
- William Shakespeare

All the world’s a stage.
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
and one man in his time plays many parts.
His acts being seven ages.
-William Shakespeare

Sonnet 66
Tired with all these, for a restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,
And maiden virtue rudely trumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly - doctor-like - controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save, to die, I leave my love alone.
- William Shakespeare


LINKS
The Spelling of the name Shakespeare.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spelling_of_Shakespeare's_name


The University study into who wrote Shakespeare.
http://www.bardweb.net/debates.html
Claremont McKenna College
Computer study.
http://ShakespeareAuthorship.com/elval.html