Bah! to batty bully-boy bicycle backers

Appeared in the North Shore News – June 3, 2016

You may have heard – or bellowed yourself – something like: ‘‘By Jing, that moron Coun. Thimblehooper! I’ll never vote for that idiot again!’’

The Thimblehooper moment has come in West Vancouver.

Because only a council of Thimblehoopers could consider for one New York minute voting for a project contemptuously hostile to West Van interests as this:

Turning  over a chunk of Argyle Avenue to the cyclist lobby’s Spirit Trail.

In all earnestness, I think better of councillors Mary-Ann Booth, Bill Soprovich, Christine Cassidy, Craig Cameron, Nora Gambioli and Michael Lewis, and Mayor Michael Smith. I personally like every one. There have been dud councillors. Not in this lot.

Because it would be an act of certifiable insanity to surrender to the bully-boy bicycle lobbyists – who arrogantly jammed motor traffic to intimidate Vancouver into bowing to their demands – and their enablers among the busy-bee bureaucrats in WV town hall. A total loser.

Just for starters: Closing Argyle to motor traffic would strip away 104 parking spaces. From a downtown screaming for parking already! Bellevue Avenue businesses, for years spotted by struggles and closures, would especially be further hurt.

As for businesses on Ambleside’s one-block-over Marine Drive, which Mayor Smith for years has thrown a ton of political might and muscle into reviving – do you think losing those 104 parking stalls would help? And would the sweaty Lycra-and-spandex crowd patronize Chez Michel, Daichi Sushi, Carmelo’s, Blue Eyed Marys and other good restaurants, let alone pause to drop a dime on the street’s fine furnishing stores, women’s fashions, jewellers, florists, gift shops, and so forth?

Exercise? What a good thing. But exercise vendors Steve Nash, Trevor Linden and Ron Zalko don’t ask citizens to subsidize their businesses, especially by donating publicly funded thoroughfares to an interest group that pays zero for the surfaces they move on.

Even worse, the proposed Spirit Trail section imposed on WV’s gorgeous Seaview Walk – a paved surface, night lighting, and, most unbelievable of all, clear-cutting of Tantalus Park, tucked in near the traffic circle above Horseshoe Bay, were initially suggested – threatened an outrageous environmental wound.

Town hall ran a couple of meetings. The opponents were as defiantly rude as any I can recall. Their written responses could fill this space. One, close to my heart: “That the importance of off-leash (for dogs) is not listed under the key themes is a gross oversight.’’ No oversight, I’d have said: Dogs, leashed or unleashed, would get in the arrogant cyclists’ way.

But, to be fair, and a hopeful signal for the Argyle issue: This time town hall materially backed down. No paved surface, no lights, no clear-cutting, dogs still allowed off leash – a mixed benefit because a potential danger to man and beast, and still not a desirable sharing with cyclists.

Western Residents Association co-chair Chris Adshead, and all credit to his and similar sincere views and to WRA’s determination, acknowledges that the staff’s Seaview discussions “started off very poorly” but “we were later pleased by the way the district has consulted and listened,” and the work so far done “has not altered the rustic feel of the trail.”

Apart from the foregoing, there are more than enough questions about town hall’s waterfront vision.

Some West Vancouver Community Arts Council members are grieving over the proposed destruction of their charming Silk Purse building. Smith has mused that an all-new combined arts building, situated eastward, is an idea. One that I’d predict the artists, musicians and (presumably) concert attendees would resist.

Notionally, the arts may be a fit. In fact music through the walls while painting or teaching would be, put gently, a distraction.

Spirit Trail and waterfront change critics: Crowd in to council chambers at the crucial June 13 meeting. By the way, what ever happened to Coun. Thimblehooper?

• • •

And this just in: As Jeremy Shepherd reported Wednesday in these pages, North Van City council dumped – barely, 4-3 – the Mussatto Party’s insane fantasy of a $4.24-million bicycle tow lift (yearly maintenance, $133,000) for the sad exercise buffs who sweat pedalling up Keith Road. Applause for councillors Rod Clark, Holly Back, Don Bell and Pam Bookham. Scorn for Mayor-for-Life Darrell Mussatto and his unbreakable political machine.

• • •

Two North Shore theatrical home runs in a row: Theatre West Van’s second version of Fawlty Towers at the Kay Meek and North Shore Light Opera’s The Merry Widow at Presentation House – which drew a rave review from highly experienced opera critic and musician Hillary Clark – sold out. I tried love and money and couldn’t get tickets to either. I’m aiming for Mary, Mary at Hendry Hall, on stage till June 11.

© Trevor Lautens, 2016

Theatre West Van’s behind-the-scenes story a puzzler

Appeared in the North Shore News – May 9, 2014

You often hear something described as ‘unbelievable.’ It rarely is. But this I rate high on my personal unbelievability scale.

Ever heard of a group declining to enter a competition – because it fears it might win? Sounds like a brilliant theme for a witty comedy. Which is appropriate. This head-shaking fear of success afflicts Theatre West Van. Whereby hangs a tale.

The narrative begins with a puzzlement. In the list of plays in the annual Theatre BC North Shore Zone Festival of Plays – which began Monday at Presentation House in North Vancouver and concludes Saturday night, adjudicated by fine actor and director David Mackay – an entry by TWV was noticeable by its absence. The festival draws plays from Deep Cove to Pemberton. But no TWV, a six-time festival best-play winner since 1997.

Stranger yet, on various dates before, during and after the festival, TWV is staging its own play: Fawlty Towers, directed by Damian Inwood, based on the madly funny television series (and with Simon Drake successfully, and gamely, playing the role that John Cleese will forever be identified with). It opened May 2 and closes May 17; check dates at theatrewestvan.com.

This scheduling clash between TWV and the festival looks as insane as a John Cleese skit. It isn’t unprecedented. Nor is it one scheming to upstage the other.

I asked Anne Marsh what’s going on.

Marsh embodies the indispensable, longtime Ms. Everywoman of North Shore theatre, the kind needed by little theatres everywhere: Example, wearing hats both as festival administrator and publicist for just about every North Shore play, and program producer and sound engineer for Fawlty Towers – simultaneously.

Marsh was commendably frank. It’s all about money.

“A couple of years in the recent past, Theatre West Van has entered and won the Zone Festival and was required to go to Maple Ridge and Kamloops for the finals. This puts a heavy financial burden on the club, which is definitely the poor man amongst groups on the North Shore,” Marsh explained.

“The club was therefore afraid that it might win again and be faced with, say, $10,000 to transport the cast and crew to Kamloops (the resident site of the provincial finals these days).”

And the timing of Fawlty Towers wasn’t TWV’s choice. It was scooped by other bookings: On a First Name Basis, by Canadian playwright Norm Foster, a favourite of mine, and Booktopia. Great business for the Kay Meek.

There’s more. “Theatre West Van has to pay over $7,500 to rent the Studio Theatre at the Kay Meek Centre, as well as abiding by all the union rules and times of operation from the technicians – an onerous situation,” Anne Marsh said. “The other groups on the North Shore (Deep Cove Stage Society and North Vancouver Community Players) can come and go as they please in their theatres, and have a much longer lead time to start setting up their productions. Theatre West Van is restricted to the Sunday before opening.” So the sets have to be struck when space is rented to other users, and then rebuilt on the Wednesdays.

Alison Jopson, TWV vice-president and liaison with the Kay Meek Centre (another multi-tasker: She played murder victim Mrs. Boyle in Agatha Christie’s classic The Mousetrap last year), clarifies this point: “Although the set has to be dismantled and then reconstructed some weeks (not all), this is done by the Meek at their expense and this is something we appreciate. .. as it saves us paying for dark nights.” (My interjection: Yes, and the high union wages doubtless are folded into the rent.) Jopson stresses that TWV has a good relationship with Kay Meek operations director Galen Olstead.

Is there a solution to this hand-to-mouth existence for a theatre company in this ultrarich town? Back to the founding deal, perhaps: The theatre shares its handsome space with abutting West Vancouver secondary under an innovative joint-use agreement between the West Van school board and the West Vancouver Arts Centre Trust. Mutually beneficial? Yes. But worth revisiting? Definitely.

***

Alcohol and drug addicts are treated sympathetically by the public and their proxy media reporters and commentators in these enlightened days, not like the bad old times when such addiction – often covered up by empty vows to reform, stealthy evasion, enabling by family and friends, and outright lying – was considered a character failure and not an illness requiring counselling and medical treatment.

***

Unless you happen to be a politically conservative mayor of Toronto. Then there is no limit to the relentless ambush, the invasion of privacy, the heartlessness and the cruelty explained and justified as the public’s right to know and other noble pronunciamentos of the media. How clever some of the witty wisecracks. How insatiable the public’s appetite. How seedy, selective and hypocritical our societal and personal ethics.

© Trevor Lautens, 2014