Bard on the Beach - Lysistrata

I recently attended my first “Bard on the Beach” performance in Vancouver.  Bard on the Beach is a not-for-profit Shakespeare festival that happens every summer.  It has been running since 1990 and presents almost 200 shows every season, running from June to September.  Their mandate is to provide high-quality Shakespeare performances and educational opportunities through both on site and by partnering with schools.

The performance I attended was the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes.  They did so with a twist though.  In the original the women of Greece were exhausted of the constant warfare between Athens and Sparta that pulled their men away from home and was depopulating the entire region.  In response they banded together to take over the city treasury and refuse to surrender the treasury or come home to do any of the household work that was expected of them until peace was negotiated. This would be a good time to stop reading if you intend to attend the play this season as there are spoilers ahead. Instead of simply performing the play as written, they presented it as a modern protest piece. 

The setup for the play is that they were supposed to present Hamlet, but made the decision to switch plays at the last minute in response to the city’s plan to rezone the park that hosts Bard on the Beach and turn it into a major shipyard.  This was delightfully done, with a realistic looking rezoning notification posted outside of the venue for attendees to read as they walked in.  I’ll admit they had me going, I read the sign before the play started and was baffled that I had heard nothing of such a major change, especially in a city where greenspace is aggressively defended!  In the play, the characters had talked management into letting them put on this play at the last minute, with no rehearsal and no costumes or props.  So, the play started with them rushing around building the set, and collecting materials for costumes out of the recycling (pop cans, bubble wrap, a Starbucks cup, and pool noodles among other things).  A character would enter the stage carrying a curtain still on the rod, leave the stage and a short time later an actor would enter to play a role in Lysistrata wearing said curtain as a very well-crafted costume! As the play progresses layers are added, argument amongst the actors debating value of doing this play interrupts the performance.  Local ‘police’ become involved, adding a layer to the protest of the performance. 

One of the interesting things that was done in this piece was the layering in of Aboriginal themes.  For those of you who live outside of British Columbia, when this land was colonized, no treaties were signed with those who lived here.  The land that we live on is stolen land.  On various levels our government and culture are starting to try to make restitution, beginning with acknowledgement of the ownership of the land.  Layered into the play was discussions of the history of the land on which Bard on the Beach operates.  It is in a part right beside the Fraser river, which once was the primary source of food for the people of this area.  The weaving in of 3 layers of social discourse was seamlessly done, the protest of the women in the Greek play against the men’s wasteful war and the women’s frustration at not being heard, the protest that the actors were making against the rezoning of the land, and the discussions of the indigenous naming and rights to the land.

I left the play with a lot of thoughts in my head, and many questions.

Why is it important that we take the steps to acknowledge the dark history of how the BC first nations peoples were treated?  Why talk about it and not just move on?

If the city really was rezoning the land for a shipping facility, should that be a problem?  Is the park as necessary as a facility that will create jobs and spur economic growth?

How far have we come since the play was written in terms of equality for women?  Do women feel their voices are heard, or is it still a struggle?


            I had a fairly long walk home, and listened to a Ted talk at random on the meaning of work, which was coincidentally very on topic for the evening.  The topic revolved around the fact that workers are the most effective when they find value in what they do, if they feel they are contributing to something and especially if they feel their work makes a difference.  An example was given of janitors in a hospital that regularly did things outside of their job description, such as cleaning a floor in a room a 2nd time because the dad sleeping beside his sick son’s bed didn’t see it happen the first time and was angry the room wasn’t being kept clean.  Obviously, it was, but the janitor in question recognized that it was about helping a frustrated and scared parent feel a little better.

            How does this connect to Lysistrata?  One of the questions raised repeatedly was about the value of a protest.  Does putting on a play hold value?  Does it accomplish anything?  In this story it did, but more importantly the characters felt it was important.  The question of the value of park land, of preserving it instead of putting in a commercial facility is one that seems obvious to so many of us.  Of course, we keep the parkland, it is where community happens, where art happens and we value those things.  We also have the privilege of living somewhere with a strong economy so it isn’t as critical.  The discussion becomes cloudier when you are talking about an issue such as putting in an oil pipeline.  For those of us in BC that fear the environmental cost, it’s not something desirable.  But for the people in the small communities in Alberta and other parts of Canada, the oil industry is their entire way of life.  If that ends, it will be devastating on their community.  So where saving the parkland in Vancouver is critical for community and culture here, the creation of those jobs through a commercial construction has the same effect of saving the community.

            The question of why we delve into the history of colonization in BC and why it’s important that we acknowledge and talk about it.  Because sometimes the act of talking about something has the effect of making a change, even if it’s just a mental one.  Sometimes you need to talk something to death, to stretch the topic so far to an extreme that when the discussion snaps back to a more moderate place, it doesn’t go all the way back to start. Progress happens in small steps.   

            The question of equality and women’s voices being heard is another one that has no clear answer.  Has change and improvement occurred in the 2500 years since this play was written?  Certainly.  There is no question that women have more of a voice, more control over their own lives.  Do we have equality?  Certainly not.  But progress is by definition an ongoing thing.  As with any social issue, progress requires reasoned discussion, examination from a variety of angles, and occasionally a play about a bunch of Greek women saying ‘enough is enough’ and standing up for their rights.


I went into this play exhausted and emotionally drained from a long day at work, wanting more than anything to turn around and go home.  I spent the 2 hours I was in that tent smiling, laughing, thoughtful and emotional.  I forget how freeing it is to watch masterful artists at work.  As I type I’m getting mentally prepared to go watch my friend’s Heavy Metal band’s CD release show.  That’ll be a whole different experience.


Thanks for reading!

Someone is wrong on the internet!

*Not Yoyo Related, just some of my random thoughts.

       Argument.  It seems to be a fundamental part of being a human.  If you have one  person, you have peace. Two people, argument, 3 or more, warfare! OK, so it’s not quite that bad, but we as a species seem to have an ingrained need to be right.  More importantly, we need our tribe/group/family to be right.  If I were to hazard a guess I would speculate that it’s tied into the evolutionary need for ones own genes to spread and dominate.  The most important people to you genetically are your parents, children and siblings.  Beyond that the ties fade exponentially unless strung together through some sort if ideology.  I remember once reading the fact that you have more in common genetically with your siblings than with your grandchildren.  It makes sense.  You siblings share the same genetic code from a direct ancestor.  Your grandchildren only have a quarter of your DNA.  Great grandchildren are almost irrelevant as far as the viral reproduction priorities of human DNA is concerned.  That is until we are tied together through ideology. 

      The family or tribe or whatever your culture calls the extended group you call your own is an extension of the human ability to create imaginary structures.  I’ve read that one argument for why homo-sapiens ended up being the dominant hominids is our ability to create religion.  At it’s base level religion is a tool humans use to explain the world around us, categorize the unexplainable and tie together in groups.

      My tribe is all 100% certain that the goddess “Aperture” opens a hole in the sky and makes the rain fall. 

      For that to be true and for it to be a viable explanation of why the rain falls, we have to be right.  If we allow for the tribe down the valley to believe that the dragon-beast “Crevasse” tears the sky open to make the rain fall, then we are back to not having an explanation that we can be sure of.

      This isn’t all bad. Amazing works throughout history have occurred because of our ability to come together in groups behind something that needs doing.  It’s how we recover from disasters A hurricane in continental USA is met with massive rescue and rebuilding efforts because it’s part of the fantasy that is “The USA!” While as we’ve seen, the same thing in Puerto Rico (which is in fact part of the USA) hasn’t had nearly the response, due I suspect in part because it’s not perceived as really being part of the USA.  On a smaller scale when someone in a reasonably functional local church community has a disaster, everyone pulls together to offer support, despite not being genetically related at all.  I saw this first hand with my Mother and Father in Law.  When my Mother in Law was in hospital, the Church community rallied to help get my father in law there for visits, made sure he got to church and got out for social events.

     In comes facebook/Reddit/Tumblr/Twitter etc.  Until the internet it was reasonably easy to maintain our illusions and our created explanations for the world around us.  We had the option of living in a place where a cluster of people agreed with us.  We could choose to spend time only in social gatherings with like minded people (hockey team/church/D&D night) and avoid those who disagreed.  Family was always a challenge because we have that genetic imperative to keep them alive, but they tend to disagree with us and rebel.  The internet has given us both the ability to dive in deep and find groups of exactly like minded people, while at the same time putting us in virtual social groups where we are exposed to other people who we usually would just not interact with in person.  They say things that pop up in our feed or in a chat group and we feel obligated to correct them.  I once saw a beautiful comic of a man sitting in a dark room at a computer, his wife at the door saying “are you coming to bed” and he replies “I can’t somebody is wrong on the internet!” (See Below).

     What makes it frustrating is that so few people are dangerously wrong, most of the time it really isn’t that important.  And it’s transient.  If you just ignore that idiot that says oranges are made out of potato skins dipped in battery acid, his statements will eventually disappear.  The paradox is that the urge to argue and correct someone who says something ‘stupid’ generally results in their opinion getting more attention than it should.  When you share something on facebook for the purpose of saying “hey look how wrong this guy is” you run the risk that someone susceptible will see and believe it. Far better to ignore it.  It’s near impossible to change someone’s mind on facebook because the process of arguing so rarely has no basis in logic, reason or any kind of accountability.  I once spent an entire day getting called a “Religion Apologist” by someone who clearly had a very damaging childhood.  I was responding to something he was flailing about that was religion related with historical facts about how religion fit into different societies.  I think I made the egregious error of acknowledging that for some people being part of a religion does great good (my father in law being a prime example) by giving them a social circle and community support.  There was no way to argue with this person though, because instead of acknowledging that any position other than his could be correct, he just kept repeating the same response that had very little bearing on what I was saying.

What can we do about this? The first thing that comes to mind for me is what I have made a practice of.I write my response to these sorts of people, then delete it. I make the mental calculation regarding whether or not I want to spend the day arguing online, then decide to go about my day. It has the double benefit of me having my say, while not giving the idiot the facebook algorithm bump up to more visibility. Instead I go outside and catch Pokemon. A much more productive use of my time.

Invisible Disabilities

An invisible disability is exactly what it sounds like. A disability you can’t see.  It’s easy to look at someone in a wheelchair and think “I’ll move to the back of the bus, this person obviously needs the space”.  When it’s not easy to see, it’s hard to provide support to people.  Whether it be mental or physical, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s there.

Why am I bringing this up on a skill toy blog?  Because from what I’ve seen the skill toy world is unusually loaded with people who struggle from the limitations of their body/brain. I know issues such as depression and anxiety are common amongst yoyoers.  From my experiences teaching, children on the Autism spectrum and with ADHD are also pretty consistently drawn to yoyo (this seems to extend into the wider skill toy world).  I suspect it is a complex thing.  I know the sequential skill building is great for a sense of short term accomplishment.  They is a visceral tactile experience in having the yoyo spin and return to your hand.  There is something about throwing a clean bind that has a addictive tactile sensation. Hands up if you’ve ever found yourself standing around just throwing and binding?  I know I find it calming to just throw tricks that I don’t have to think about. 

Many people I’ve talked to who play begleri find it to be a help with mental challenges as it can be a calming meditative activity.  I’ve also spoken to people for whom it has helped with arthritis or carpel tunnel and other mobility limiting issues with the hands.  It’s also a great activity if you are chair bound or otherwise low mobility.  It’s something that can be learned simply by doing and doesn’t require great skill to enjoy (although you can develop some amazing feats of dexterity).

For me personally these two toys have been a lifeline.  I have been in a couple serious car accidents, and while I look strong and healthy, it’s a coin toss every day as to wether I get out of bed and am able to face the day as a joyful challenge or as a struggle just to move.  Yoyo has been a huge boon to me in terms of managing my ADHD for 8 years, and begleri has been a great to to slip into the times where yoyo isn’t feasible.  In the face of 2 accidents and chronic pain, running Return Top Shop has given me a way to stay connected in the face of limited ability actually yoyo.  I don’t make as many tutorials as I don’t have the ability to concentrate to create new tricks as often.  The intense repetition required is too much, as is the task of filming (as well all know it takes 100 tries to get a trick right once when there is a camera on you).

More than anything these skill toys have given me community and connection to people.  When you are limited to how much socializing you can do out of the house, having an online community is a huge thing.  Through running Return Top Shop I am privileged to share the joy of people receiving their first or next skill toy.  We never really outgrow that birthday feeling of opening a present and finding that toy you’ve been looking forward to, and opening mail can generate a similar feeling (as long as it isn’t a bill ;).

So I’m writing this blog post to say thank you.  To everyone who has shared positivity with me over the years and encouraged me to push on.  Thank you to everyone who has shopped at, running the store has been a thing I can do while stuck to the couch because moving hurts and I appreciate that you all have kept it running.  Thank you to the customers who have been patient when I’ve come home from teaching too exhausted and in pain to ship out their boxes.  It’s very much appreciated.

I’ve also had the fun of making toys!  I kindof feel a little like a pretender in that category, as what I more often do is “I want this thing, someone design it for me” and then I throw money and time at it until it gets made.  So a big thank you to Ray Smith who got me started down this road by taking the chance and sponsoring a new player onto team MonkeyfingeR all those years ago.  To the various people involved in King Yo Star (Gary Li, Song Yao, Luckey Li, Kai Zhang) that helped me through my apprenticeship in the yoyo business.  To Justin Scott Larson who is the creative engine behind Rain City Skills.  I’m really just the pretty face and the coin purse that gets his designs made (although I will accept credit for poking him with “lets do this weird thing” to which he replies “physics says no, lets do it anyway”).

Finally a thank you to my wife.  6 years so far and she hasn’t got sick of listening to me talk about toys, fill the house with them and leave bits of string and paracord and bearings and packing peanuts all around the house.  For travelling with me to go to yoyo contests, for making time for me to hang out with yoyo clubs in various cities we’ve been to on our vacations, and for being the person who has never stopped saying to new people “check out this awesome thing my husband can do” and being genuinely excited to watch me put a smile on someone's face.

Now go forth and play.  Thank you for reading.