Trevor Abes: Writer

Category: Essays

Markowiak’s Lemon Tells The Young Adult Blues

My review of Andrew Markowiak’s LEMON, produced by Filament Incubator. Read it in Sewer Lid Magazine.



Theatre of the Oppressed: Jordan Tannahill’s Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom

My review of Jordan Tannahill’s double bill in The Theatre Reader

Botticelli in the Fire “[tames] political and religious fundamentalism into conquerable myths.”

Sunday in Sodom “is an act of reclamation that lives up to the proportions of the book it comes from.”

Read it here.

Botticelli in the Fire photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.



Coal Mine Theatre Slays With Killer Joe 

My review of The Coal Mine Theatre’s production of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe. 

“Killer Joe takes the radical humanist stance of affixing a domestic, sociological lens onto North American politics by getting to know the people threatening to make it great again. […] Years from now, this production should be remembered as a period piece, unabashedly of its time, all up in the chaos of history being written.”

Read it here.

Coal Mine Theatre presents KILLER JOE 800

Photo by Matt Campagna.


Little Black Afro’s Spoken Word Theatre

Toronto’s Little Black Afro Theatre Company returns with a revised version of Carbon, originally performed at the 2014 Hamilton Fringe Festival.

Read my review in Sewer Lid.



Photo by Cesar Ghisilieri.


Communicating Without Ego: Then They Fight Theatre’s Our Idiot Friend Is Now Dead

101010 poster

Photo by Cesar Ghisilieri Photography.

My review of this year’s 10/10/10 Project — Then They Fight Theatre’s Our Idiot Friend Is Now Dead — is up today in Sewer Lid Magazine.

Read it here.

When TV Watches Back: Coyote Collective’s Like a Generation

Picture One

The terrifying thing about watching a lot of TV is that most of the damage it causes is both delivered and received with a smile. Understanding this smile is the central concern in Like a Generation, the latest play from Toronto’s Coyote Collective.

Read my review in Sewer Lid Magazine.

The Illustrated Life: An Interview With Writer And Cartoonist Salgood Sam

 Here’s my chat with Salgood Sam on The Rusty Toque

Salgood Sam (photo by Niall Eccles)

Salgood Sam (photo by Niall Eccles).


If On A Winter’s Night Michael DeForge: Redefining The Horror Comic In A Kim-Kardashianized World

Here’s my first op-ed for Sequential: Canadian Comix News and Culture. It’s about Toronto-based comics artist Michael DeForge (Ant Colony, Adventure Time) and his very particular use of horror. Have a read.




The Peanut-Butteriness of Sunday Afternoons

Bookcase by Job Koelewijn.

Bookcase by Job Koelewijn.

I don’t know about you, but Sunday afternoons can feel raw, heady, like that moment of pride after plugging in a dying phone for charging, multiplied by a thousand. Teeth are brushed with the care of a kiss, every word of Friday’s leftover mail is read, not skimmed over dinner, and speed limits seem just inventions, the thorns bound to those platonically pristine roses we are sometimes reminded to smell.

Some of my happiest memories as a child happened half asleep on a chair or in the backseat of a car in mid afternoon, a haze of semi-dry heat pressing itself against my cheeks. I’d start to nod off and, instantly, I’d accept my body’s call to shut down, oblivious to the scenery –whether the dutifully green lawns of a Brampton suburb or plastic furniture and extended family, barbecue smoke and the smell of chlorine– and oblivious to the unfinished e-mails that could wait another hour or two. Then, awake and restored to the Earth, maybe by the rush of someone across damp swimming pool cobbles, scanning an article for overused gerunds no longer seemed so apocalyptic. Sunday, for me, is synonymous with this kind of small-time careless abandon.

Yet Sunday is closer to nothing than any other day of the week, not nihilism, but the total availability of space and time. Sunday is when breakups happen, when poems are finished. Sunday is when habits are given up and sons and daughters are disowned for good. It is the best day for first-time experiences, because they will seep into your attention and stain it like turmeric.

Even if your time off or week’s end is frequently found on Mondays, Mondays are your Sundays, those days when you lounge on the couch a little longer than you normally would,  forget the dishes soaking in the sink, and ponder for pleasure because you can without interruption.

The freedom to pick a file from the universe’s library and look at it as a toddler does an ant that doesn’t bite: this is a savory activity, one that merits more than a few minutes before bed. Through it people change, get better at being themselves, and imbue the daily grind with sweet, sexy meaning.

If you are, then let us see. 

The Devolution of Nikki Yanofsky

Photo by Valerie Jodoin Keaton.

Photo by Valerie Jodoin Keaton.

Even if you can’t tell John Coltrane from John McLaughlin, you’ve probably heard of Canada’s most promising jazz singer, 19-year-old Nikki Yanofsky. Hailing from Hampstead, Montreal, Yanofsky immersed herself in music as a child – her two older brothers introduced her to the Beatles and she enrolled in vocal lessons spurred on by her father Richard, also a musician. She turned out to be a natural talent blessed with perfect pitch, and the results exceeded anyone’s expectations. At 12, she became the youngest artist in history to headline the Montreal Jazz Festival, performing in front of more than 100,000 people. At 13, she recorded her debut Ella…Of Thee I Swing, a tribute to her idol Ella Fitzgerald, at a packed Place des Arts in 2007. The album features astounding renditions of “You’ve Changed,” “Flyin’ Home,” and Etta James’ “At Last,” which Yanofsky dedicated to her dog Hudson after stating that, at her tender age, it was the best way she had to emote during the song. Through the 14-song set, she sounds comfortable beyond her years with both the stage and the cadences of soul earned through hardship. She dips into lower registers like a wrong turn purposefully taken, soars for that show-stopping high note like the powerhouse greats she’s studied since primary school, and she scats with the personality of someone who’s dwelled in hell and found her way out at a snail’s pace. A teenaged hell, but hell all the same.

Two years passed before her first studio effort, the laconically titled Nikki, hit shelves in 2010. Listeners encountered a greater prevalence of pop next to the expected jazz standards, but it was clear in Yanofsky’s delivery that she had a history with every song and artist. Nikki also had experience on her side, with St. Catharines legend Ron Sexsmith and Jesse Harris of “Don’t Know Why” fame on board as co-writers for some of her first original compositions. If the production was more refined, it was all the better for it, a necessary upgrade to meet the normal vocal changes from 13 to 16 years of age. On “God Bless the Child,” Yanofsky conveys a fitting cocktail of loss and longing; she understands Billie Holiday’s personal troubles during her 1941 recording without having to live them. On the playful “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” band and singer offer insights into straight ahead jazz that root Yanofsky in the history of her craft beyond proper song choices. Gone is what a certain critic called her “canny mimicry” – referring to her 2006-07 recording of “Airmail Special” on the compilation We All Love Ella– a sense of self-assurance and ownership over the material having taken its place. Nikki is currently certified gold in Canada, having shipped over 40,000 copies.

Throughout these years, what brought people out to the concerts is sheer amazement, at least on the surface. A kid that belts them like the best of them will always draw a crowd. What brought people out to see her for a second or third time, though, carries a considerable weight, and it’s that what we were watching was, without question, the rise of the world’s next great jazz singer. Diehards will disagree, purists always will until they see the grail before their eyes, but Yanofsky was a girl apart from the singers spoiled by jazz-inflected pop. From her Converse and jeans, she slipped into Ella’s high heel pumps better than anyone on the scene since she first squeaked her way onto it, and that all changed when Nikki signed with one Quincy Jones.


Photo by Michael Buckner.

As Yanofsky’s co-manager, Jones had a gradual effect on the young singer’s sound. Jazz played second fiddle to pop song-structures; stripped-down, acoustic accompaniment was ditched for digital overproduction; and her supple vocal runs scooted to make room for clichéd R&B acrobatics. Yanofsky’s third album, Little Secret – long delayed since its initial fall 2013 release– saw her in the studio with Rob Kleiner, a songwriter and producer experienced in club-ready beats who’s worked with Flo Rida, David Guetta, and Cee Lo Green. The songs they came up with aim for a broader appeal and for younger audiences through the dilution of Yanofsky’s musical identity. Nikki has been smoothed out, with only vestiges of the uncalculated, care-free approach to soul, classic blues, and jazz that kept her from being swallowed by the industry. From the title track “Little Secret” to “Something New” to “Enough of You,” the album almost uniformly takes heed from repetitious Top-40-esque dribble. Additionally, the backing band on her Little Secret Tour is roughly 20 years younger than her last, with previous musical director Rob Fahie being replaced by Will Wells, a laptop-reliant arranger whose touring background is limited to a stint with LMFAO.

Yet as I said at the start, Yanofsky is immersed in music. Little Secret is masterfully executed because jazz is not the limit of her repertoire and she is a better singer with each passing year. During her set on June 25, 2013 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, she sang a jazz-medley of recent hits, including Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” and LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” She wrote around her favorite verse on Louis Armstrong’s “Jeepers Creepers” and performed it as the animated throwback “Jeepers Creepers 2.0.” There is ample need for experimentation in jazz – and a need for fun in general, free from critical stuffiness about what jazz is and what it isn’t– as is the case in the career of a girl not yet 20. There are decades still to tread before Nikki’s style settles into any kind of permanence and more changes are surely to come. It’s just too bad the most recent adaptation in her evolution is the outcome of pressure, naiveté, and a desire to excel within conformity when inimitability was already there. 

Culture Hawker Chronicles: Patrick Grant


From the Toronto Review of Books

In this series, Trevor Abes gets to know the people behind the counter at Toronto’s music stores, book shops, and art galleries.

Patrick Grant has his hustles. He’s been the general manager at Kops Records going on four years and he sings lead in Patrick Grant and the FleshVignettes, an indie rock sextet with soul and funk influences. He also plays guitar at The Comedy Bar for the Sunday Night Live show. Grant’s goal is to “make music that relates to both the body and the mind, to have a really groovy ass band that lets you get down, but at the same time makes you think.”

Trevor: What does your job at Kops involve?

Patrick: I do merchandising, stocking, and ordering of new product.

Trevor: Where did you grow up?

Patrick: I grew up on the North York side of Scarborough, Ellesmere and Victoria Park area.

Trevor: What kind of musicians inform you?

Patrick: My favorite artist of all time is Bruce Springsteen. I like guys who are heavily songwriting-oriented, like a Paul Simon, or in terms of newer guys, I really like Kurt Vile.

Trevor: Where’s your fascination with music come from?

Patrick: It grew through my family. My dad dropped The Boss, The Doors and The Eagles in the car all the time. Hearing “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” when you’re seven has a pretty profound influence on a kid.

Trevor: What have you been listening to lately?

Patrick: A compilation [on Now-Again Records] called Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges. Tracks on this record might have been sampled on your favorite hip hop song, thought most people wouldn’t necessarily know.

Trevor: Tell me what’s so special about vinyl.

Patrick: This is a little heady, but when you’re relating to something that is a physical object scraping against another physical object to make a sound, it reacts with your body in a way that’s not necessarily just in your ears. It’s participation. People like to have a tangible physical medium when they’re consuming art. It’s the difference between going to an art gallery and looking at Picassos on your computer.

Trevor: What do you make of all this hoopla about the death of record stores?

Patrick: I don’t really believe that record stores are dying, I believe that record stores that don’t know their position and function are dying. Everyone wants a place like [Kops]. I see some record stores close because of a lack of an ability to adapt.

Trevor: Have any interesting run-ins during your time at Kops?

Patrick: There was a day a cat came up to me with a Connie Francis record he got out of our 25 cent bin, and he said, “Can you put this on hold for me? I’ll be back tomorrow to pick it up.” I asked him who I should put it on hold for. He looked me in the eye and said, “Andrew Lloyd Webber,” and walked straight out the door.

Classics Envy: Why No Book Is Better Than The Next

Photo by Michael Fritz.

Sam Beckett. Photo by Michael Fritz.

Thought they are facts, and highly intuitive ones at that, reading a novel doesn’t necessarily offer more mental benefits than watching a film, and reading a short story isn’t guaranteed to make you a better person than an episode of your favorite TV show. If the relationship between readers and literature was that simple and self-aggrandizing, book critics would be falling over left and right from persistent genital arousal disorder. I did not understand any of this until roughly halfway through university.

In university, I was the kind of English major that looked down on “trashy” fiction for being what it is: easy, popularly-themed reading that hopefully appeals to everyone and your grandma. Authors like Grisham, Patterson, and Coelho didn’t deserve to be called literature because their aesthetics lacked complexity, and their books too-much resembled the products of an assembly line. These authors were, in a sense, garbage.

Where did I first encounter these views? The likely answer is through my fascination with literary theory, the writers of which still hold the places in my psyche that many tend to reserve for rock stars and celebrities. Their personal lives aside, I took reading suggestions from Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, I read Derrida like he was the Oracle of Delphi, and Barthes, well, his style and grace just couldn’t be matched. The logical consequence of believing in and defending a theorist’s teachings is thinking that whoever disagrees is wrong. Now, Derrida never said Danielle Steel’s novels were shit, and Barthes thought a lot of well-respected books were– Bloom, it’s worth remembering, reserves his wrath for Harry Potter and Stephen King; the connection between lit theory and looking down on grocery-store-rack fiction is the presence you keep: People that write about books write about the ones that offer the most mileage; your Austen, your Proust, your Beckett, and your Kafka require a considerable amount more unraveling than the latest Alex Cross thriller. Comparatively, does that mean The Metamorphosis will do you more good than bad? Clearly not. If the relationship between high-literature, an aptitude for learning, and the smooth development of the self was that straightforward, Jackie Collins wouldn’t be allowed near a television studio. And the issue is well beyond different books appealing to different people, because a love for the classics doesn’t preclude a love for what is perceived as kitsch.

‘Appeal’ may not be the right word. Mere interest isn’t what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about life-paths, and passing fancies are but small fragments of their multifoliate makeup. Whichever books you dare crack open, the only way to guarantee they affect you to their fullest degree is to read them without preconceptions; in this way, Twilight and Waiting for Godot are essentially the same. 

Roland Barthes. Photo by Aly.

Roland Barthes. Photo by Aly.

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