Meanwhile...Our Online Magazine
It was a year ago that we launched Meanwhile. The first issue was on April 7, 2020. At that time, we thought this pandemic would be short-lived. Still, we thought it would be good to keep in touch with you, our theatre family.
Obviously we were wrong about the length of the pandemic, but we are still hopeful we will be able to reopen our theatres sometime this fall, as soon as it is safe.
In the meanwhile, we are still here to provide you with "interesting, informative and even instructive articles, videos and podcasts during these housebound, reflective times.”
While We Wait …
It was last year around this time that I was about a month into lockdown 1.0, with two small children, wondering how I was going to survive being cooped up in my house with a small backyard that had seen better days.
We had planted grass at one point but it slowly turned to mud and as the snow thawed we were left with a patch of dust, broken toys, and some old building materials left over from a recent renovation. The kids built an obstacle course and dug a large hole which kept them entertained but I couldn’t shake the feeling that, if I didn’t do something soon, I’d be consigned to spending my summer in this scrapyard.
While a dystopian hellscape was actually fairly on trend for the year 2020, it was a delight nonetheless when, during a virtual class with my first-grader, we were struck with inspiration while reading a story about a girl who grew a sunflower hut. A sunflower hut is a small circular structure made out of sunflowers of different sizes, with wildflowers filling in the gaps. As the sunflowers grow tall they begin to bend into one another, creating a roof of flowers. We were intrigued. We had a sunny spot and a bag of top soil from last year — all we needed now were the seeds.Read More About the sunflower hut and learn how to make your own
And so, armed with a small bottle of coveted hand sanitizer, a face mask, rubber gloves and my bicycle, I set off on my mission to procure what we hoped would salvage our “yard” sufficiently for a summer of isolation. I purchased a couple of varieties of sunflower seeds and some mixed wildflowers from Urban Harvest. Then we followed the directions given in the story and dug a flower bed shaped like a semicircle. We planted our seeds, and within a couple of weeks started to see sprouts. The kids were thrilled about this, and came out every morning with their little watering cans to inspect the new growth.
The sprouts quickly grew — and grew — into a beautiful little ring of green to which the children promptly added a table and chairs to have their midday snacks. While the sunflowers grew, so did our other annuals and soon our backyard wasn’t looking so sad.
When the province allowed us to bubble with another family we went to my parents farm for a little over a month; when we returned, our yard had turned into a jungle! We had bees and butterflies and flowers towering over us. Soon we were feeding the squirrels too and we laughed as we watched them climb the stalks that would bend and break, leaving them hanging on for dear life. We’d grown more than just a sunflower hut here; we had, inadvertently, created a tiny ecosystem. It was somewhere we could play all day, our small escape from the uncertainties of the world around us.
When the flowers began to droop and the outer leaves yellowed, we harvested our seeds. When it got cold we cut down the stalks and later used them to build frames for paper lanterns that we delivered to our neighbours on the winter solstice.
We have enough seeds to grow many more sunflower huts this year, so I think we might spread the cheer in some unexpected places around our neighbourhood.
The world around us continues to be filled with uncertainty but rewilding our little piece of it gives me a sense of optimism that is revitalizing after my daily doom scroll.
If you would like to grow your own sunflower hut follow these steps:
- 1. Choose a sunny spot and dig a garden in the shape of a semicircle with a small opening for an entrance.
- 2. Purchase a variety of sunflower seeds and pollinator friendly wildflower seeds. Pay attention to the expected height of the sunflowers as there are many varieties that grow to different heights. Also, be sure the seeds are neonicotinoid-free to protect bees from damaging pesticides.
- 3. Once the threat of frost has passed, sew sunflower seeds directly in the soil one inch deep and four inches apart.
- 4. Scatter wildflower seeds throughout and cover lightly with a layer of soil.
- 5. Water well, being careful not to disturb your seeds.
- 6. Continue to water daily until established and then only when the soil is feeling extra dry.
- 7. Once your stalks have grown high and start to lean you can direct them into the centre to make a roof for your house or just let them be free like we did.
- 8. You can harvest your seeds once the outer leaves begin to yellow. Be sure to save your stalks as they can be useful for making things like lanterns or garden trellises next year!
Happy Planting! Let’s rewild our backyards!
Check In From Away
Steffi and Lisa go behind the scenes of the brand new digital musical of Alice In Wonderland. They speak with the creators and some of the performers. What’s it like for theatre people to work in an environment that is more film than theatre? What adjustments have they made?
Alice In Wonderland is produced by Bad Hats Theatre and presented by Soulpepper Theatre. It is streaming now until April 16th. For more information and tickets visit Soulpepper.ca.
Reelin’ in the Years: Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen is a multi-award-winning musical that had its international premiere production at the Royal Alexandra Theatre with an all-Canadian cast. It’s opening night was on March 28, 2019. Enjoy these video highlights.
Memories of Roast Beef, Mashed Potatoes & Peas
Remembering the magic of Ed’s Warehouse Restaurants … all six of them
“If you like home cooking, eat at home.”
That was the slogan of Ed’s Warehouse Restaurant when it opened on January 20, 1966. Like many of the slogans that Ed Mirvish used to promote Honest Ed’s, the legendary bargain department store that first brought him to prominence, the slogan for his first restaurant was self-deprecating and fun. But it was also accurate.
After Ed bought, saved from demolition, and restored the Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street in 1963, he realized that there were two important things he still had to do: make the theatre operational 52 weeks a year, and create an exciting neighbourhood around it. The first was a matter of finding enough worthwhile shows to put on the stage of the Royal Alex; the second was a little more difficult.
The King Street neighbourhood was more or less derelict throughout most of the 1950s and into the 1960s. Across the street from the theatre were disused railway yards and around it were empty warehouse buildings, abandoned by businesses that had moved to the suburbs to avoid the downtown taxes. Ed knew that in order to attract a large enough audience to fill his theatre he needed something more around the beautiful heritage theatre on which he had lavished a million dollars to restore.
What kind of business is complementary to the theatre business? A place to have a meal before the show, of course.
So Ed bought “the large but rather homely six-storey building next door,” as he explained in his introduction to the souvenir magazine, “Deluxe Guide in Living Colour to Ed’s Warehouse Restaurants,” which was available at the restaurants in the late 1970s. The building had been used as a dry goods warehouse and a printing business. For $525,000, Ed got the building and floors of old furniture, publishers’ stock and printing presses.
His idea was to open a “joint,” by which he meant a restaurant that would be fun to visit. He set out to recreate one of his favourite restaurants, Durgin-Park in Faneuil Hall Marketplace in downtown Boston, which he described as “a century-old, rough-and-tumble truck-drivers tavern, where burly guys in visored caps plunk down at long tables and sink their shoes in the sawdust on the floor.”
That was the initial idea, but it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Ed would be the first to tell you that he knew nothing about restaurants, just like he knew nothing about theatres when he bought the Royal Alex. But he would also tell you “sheer ignorance beats experience.” He also believed “you can’t succeed if you don’t try” and “listen to your instincts and follow your convictions.” (By the way, these are some of the rules and lessons he espoused in his bestselling memoir, How to Build An Empire on an Orange Crate, or 121 Lessons I Never Learned in School [Key Porter Books, 1993]).
Ed consulted with successful restaurateurs and with experienced interior designers and other professionals. But what they suggested sounded too traditional and boring. He decided to do it his way and the result was a 150-seat dining room on the west side of the first floor of the warehouse building. He used the crew of carpenters, electricians and construction workers that looked after Honest Ed’s. To outfit it, he bought furnishings from auction sales and antique stores (he bought the entire stock of one dealer), stained-glass windows from demolished buildings, Tiffany lampshades with red fringes, even elaborate brass doors and railings from stately old bank buildings that were being “modernised.” Anything that would dazzle the eye and create conversation. To connect the dining room with the Royal Alex next door, framed photos of the stars who had played at the theatre since 1907 hung on the wooden pillars and walls of the room. The colour palette was red, gold and more red. The final effect was “Baroque bordello,” as one wisecracking journalist described it when the joint first opened.
On the menu was only one item, a dish that wasn’t often cooked at home because of the time and preparation it took, but one that could be served in mere minutes so that theatregoers could still enjoy their meal and not be late for the show: roast prime rib of beef. Truth in advertising — “If you like home cooking, eat at home.”Read More about Ed’s Warehouse Restaurants
Ed called the joint Ed’s Warehouse, because it was on the first floor of a warehouse and it was created by Ed. More truth in advertising.
In 1966, a meal of roast beef, with rolls and butter, kosher dills, mashed potatoes, peas and Yorkshire pudding, cost only $3.15 at Ed’s Warehouse. Great value.
The joint caught on immediately. Lineups to get in were common. So Ed expanded into the east side of the first floor, then onto the second floor and then the basement. When Ed turned 64 he decided to buy the building farther west on King Street, a former brass foundry, and opened Old Ed’s, in honour of his “senior years.” Then he bought the building next to that.
Along with all these extensions, the choices on the menu also grew. But they were never overwhelming, at least not for food. Ed believed in keeping it simple. Still, he would often joke that his menu had two pages of food and 10 pages of cocktails, liquor, beer and wine.
By the 1970s, there were six restaurants: Ed’s Warehouse, Ed’s World-Famous Italian, Ed’s Folly, Old Ed’s, Honourable Ed’s Chinese and Ed’s Seafood. But you could get his famous roast prime rib of beef at all of them.
The restaurants served more than 1.2 million meals annually, consisting of: 250,000 pounds of potatoes, 250,000 pounds of peas, 1 million pounds of beef, 500,000 Yorkshire puddings and 3 million dinner rolls. On Saturday nights alone, 6,000 diners would be served.
Ed’s restaurants became a destination. Young couples had first dates at one of Ed’s restaurants, married couples went to celebrate anniversaries, families marked special occasions, companies held employee banquets. Together with the bustling Royal Alex, Ed’s restaurants made King Street the happening neighbourhood in the city.
There’s nothing like imitation to prove something is a success, and that’s what happened with Ed’s restaurants. The first major restaurant that wasn't connected with Ed to open in the reinvigorated neighbourhood was Filet of Sole, which opened in a smaller warehouse building at Duncan and Pearl streets in 1984. It used the same formula that Ed created: good food at great value in a fun atmosphere. Then Kit Kat opened in a row house on King just west of John. That was the start of Restaurant Row.
At the same time, the rail yards across from the Royal Alex became Roy Thomson Hall and the MetroCentre. At Wellington and John, other yards became the new CBC headquarters, and farther down the street the SkyDome was built. A few years later, in 1993, the Mirvish family built the Princess of Wales Theatre. It was then that the neighbourhood was officially named the Entertainment District.
By that point, there were more restaurants in the Entertainment District than in another area in Toronto. The place that had begun it all, Ed’s Warehouse, seemed to no longer be necessary. After all, Ed had only opened his restaurants to help bring audiences to his theatre. That had been accomplished a thousand times over.
In the late 1990s, Ed started winding down his restaurants. The first to go was Ed’s Seafood, then Ed’s Italian, Ed’s Folly and Ed’s Warehouse. On September 16, 2000, the last of the restaurants, Old’s Ed’s, closed.
Peter Dekker was the head bartender for all of Ed’s restaurants for 25 of the 31 years he worked there. He started at Ed’s Warehouse in 1969 and was among the very last employees to see the last restaurant closed.
“I always believed Ed had the golden touch,” he recently said. “He was really a showman and the restaurants were his stage set, and I believe he loved every moment of being on his stage. Even though he was a shy guy, when he was playing the part of Ed the entrepreneur, he shined.
"Like clockwork he would arrive each day at noon at the restaurants from having spent the morning working at Honest Ed's. He would say hello to all the staff and listen to all the news from the various managers. Then he would go into one of the dining rooms. He was there to greet guests but never imposed himself on them. He would then have a light lunch, usually with his son or a business acquaintance. If there was a matinee at one of the theatres, he would go check it out.”
Peter says Ed’s desire to please people and his attention to detail were the two qualities that made him successful.
“He loved people, all kinds of people, and they loved him. You could see how excited some people were to go up to him for a chat, and he was just as excited to talk with them and find out about their lives.
“I especially liked it when Ed had celebrities for dinner. Liberace was always the most fun. Every time he came to Ed’s Warehouse, all the other diners would stand and applaud. Of course, it was impossible not to notice him when he walked in.
“Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Pierre Trudeau, Wayne Gretzky, so many people I can’t remember all of them. If there was a celebrity in town, Ed would have them for dinner. He and his wife Annie were always the most gracious hosts.
“I remember the times John Candy came for dinner. He would order two of the Warehouse cuts of prime rib. These were the biggest cuts on the menu. But first he’d have soup and salad. Sometimes he’d have two desserts. But he’d only have one Diet Coke and nothing else to drink. I still find that funny.
“Working at Ed’s restaurants was always exciting. In the very busy years, you never had a minute to take a breath. In two hours of the dinner rush before the curtain went up at the theatre I’d have to mix more than 600 cocktails, all by hand. In later years, I convinced Yale Simpson, who managed all the restaurants for Ed, to bring in electric mixing machines. That saved a lot of time. No more shaking and shaking until my arms felt as if they were going to fall off.
“People in those days drank much more than they do today. We had a special Ed’s martini — eight ounces of pure alcohol. Even at lunch people would have three or four of them. I could never figure out how they could even stand after drinking that much. But it was a different time, different attitudes. People didn’t always do the best for their bodies and health.
“I came to Canada from Holland and I’ve always loved how this country had been made by so many people from so many different places. Ed’s restaurants were just like Canada. The staff represented almost every continent on the globe. It was a huge staff, probably more than 300 people. And most of us who worked there stayed there our entire careers. That says something about the places doesn’t it?
“When Old Ed’s closed it was the end of an era. And it was time for me to retire. I’d had a great time.”
Did you dine at Ed’s restaurants? Would you like to share your memories? If you have photos, we’d love to receive them too. Please email both to email@example.com. We’ll publish a selection in the next issue of Meanwhile.
Reader Memories of the Last Year
We asked you to share your thoughts about a year without live theatre. Many of you responded. Thank you. Here are some of your submissions.
I remember going to see Hamilton on Leap Day – February 29th. It was so exciting; we’d had our tickets for ages – seemed like a good omen to go on that date. And yet…there was something in the air. News reports were getting stronger and more frequent regarding the new virus. A vague sense of foreboding.
Our group was scattered around the theatre according to seat preference, and I remember looking around and being very glad that there wasn’t anyone in the seat next to me (and I was on an aisle, so no one on either side). It felt a bit irrational, but there it was.
We had tickets to Summer: The Donna Summer Musical on March 18th. On March 12th it was getting nerve-wracking – deciding whether or not we would still go if the show wasn’t cancelled (leaning more to not going at that point). And then it was cancelled on the 14th.
I wouldn’t have believed if you told me then that it would be for more than a year. All of the shows – gone – and life suddenly confined to home. As everyone has experienced — a lot of mixed emotions since then.
But now, with the vaccines being rolled out – instead of the foreboding – a vague sense of hope. Don’t know how long, but there will be a time when we’ll be back to life and back to the theatre. I think the first shows will be an amazing feeling in the audiences. I’ll bet the ovations will go on and on and on. Looking forward to it.
Michelle Collierread More reader memories of the last year
Oh boy do we miss the theatre and the Mirvish community.
My last memory was the joy of taking my daughter to see Hamilton which we were so excited about, especially my daughter, as it was her birthday. It also gave us a chance to spend time together. It was an amazing show, just so fantastic in every way: performances, writing, music, you name it.
My husband and I were booked to see The Boyfriend starring Kelsey Grammer as part of our subscription (first time having one). We were also looking forward to that one. Then word came that things are shutting down and that particular show was going to be canceled. So sad.
Going to the theatre is like losing yourself in a good book. The play steals you away for some time to enjoy the excitement, the tension, the laughter; to see the faces of the actors and enjoy their performances, and to be able to be in the moment with the actors on stage and the audience around you.
Frankly going to the theatre makes a really good date night with my husband or an outing with my kids or a great family get-together, something we can all enjoy. I’m really looking forward to getting back to it.
Thank you for Meanwhile. It's been a treat reading each issue and hearing and seeing the videos.
Until we see you again in the theatre …
Last year around this time, my husband and I were returning from our winter vacation and very much looking forward to seeing the thrilling performance of Hamilton on our subscription. Sadly, that was not meant to be with the pandemic.
But over this past year, I have reflected on how fortunate and privileged we have been to see so many great actors and performances over the many years of being a subscriber — since 1978!
My parents were Royal Alex subscribers from the time Ed Mirvish reopened the Royal Alex. So I grew up seeing many of the phenomenal actors Ed brought to Toronto. I saw Ingrid Bergman and Pernell Roberts in Captain Brassbound’s Conversion; Julie Harris and Kim Hunter in And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little; Debbie Reynolds in Irene; Angela Lansbury in Gypsy, and then in Blythe Spirit many decades later; Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons, Margaret Hamilton, Yul Brenner, Lily Tomlin, Joanne Woodward, Joan Plowright, Derek Jacoby, Carrie Fisher, Mandy Patinkin, Patti Lupone, Jack Lemmon, Peter O’Toole, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, to name a few. Each opportunity to see such greats on the stage performing live was mesmerizing and enthralling. It has given me so many incredible memories to hold onto and cherish.
I know the curtain will rise again and that there will be many more fantastic performances and thrilling times ahead. Live theatre will return and give myself and many younger subscribers the chance to be entertained and thrilled again and again.
I hope to be back again “in the room where it happens.” In the meanwhile, I remain forever grateful to the Mirvish family for the joy over the many years of giving me some of the greatest thrills one person could ever ask for when the house lights go down . . . .
My youngest daughter, who was living in Australia at the time, sent us YouTube videos of people getting into abusive situations in grocery stores...over toilet paper! My husband and I and our other daughter thought this was ludicrous and unbelievable. This was in late February 2020.
In the weeks to come, we started hearing snippets of news and information regarding a virus in several places in the world. At that time, we didn't know exactly what to think or how it would affect us here. No one wanted to jump ahead of themselves.
For months, with anticipation and excitement, we had been looking forward to attending the March 12th evening performance of Come From Away. But with the news about the virus, we were a little uneasy and hesitant. Was a theatre full of people safe? Should we or shouldn't we go? We also rationalized that Mirvish wouldn't put the public at risk. We called the day before and were told all performances would go on as scheduled. So on the date of our performance, my husband, our daughter, my sister and I drove downtown.
As we walked the area, it felt a little different. That charge and electric vibe you usually feel as you walk towards a theatre for a performance seemed subdued. This was not normal for a Thursday evening in Toronto, in the entertainment district no less.
We thought, Let's just think positive. Finally, as we entered the theatre that pre-show excitement returned… and what a performance it was!!!
For me the theatre has always been a catalyst: to transport you to another place or time, to stir emotions and ignite thoughts, provoke opinions.
Come From Away achieves all that and more!
So much has transpired in the past year — so many uncertainties, so many missed opportunities. What the future holds for all theatre-lovers and when will theatre reopen is unsure at this moment.
What I do know for sure is: the performance of Come From Away on Thursday, March 12th, 2020, the second last day before all theatre performances were put on hold, has left a positive, indelible memory for me that will last long after this pandemic is over.
Winners of The Father Digital Codes
Congratulations to Julie Andrews, Joshua Chong, Howard Hoffman, Joyce Ito, John Jones, Lori MacLean, Abbe Osicka, Ann Sargent, Nina Sicilia and Sylvia Tam. They each won a digital code to watch the acclaimed new Oscar-nominated film, The Father. Thanks to everyone who entered last issue’s contest.
Keep Calm Slogan Contest
GET YOUR NAME UP IN LIGHTS & WIN A $100 MIRVISH GIFT CARD
To mark our anniversary we are holding another Marquee Slogan Contest. Do you remember the original from 2020? We received thousands of entries.
You may know the slogan used at the start of WWII in the UK to inspire citizens to stay safe. It began with Keep Calm. In the spirit of that slogan, we'd like you to think of new slogans that are inspirational and instructional in these turbulent days.Your slogan must be short, instructive and inspirational.
The best new slogans will be added to the rotation on our social media platforms, website and on the digital marquees of the Princess of Wales Theatre and the Ed Mirvish Theatre and the author will receive a $100 Mirvish Gift Card as an honorarium.
You'll get bonus points if your slogan has a theatrical reference or connection. It could be a play title, or a lyric from a well-known song from a musical, or even a famous theatre person's name.
Deadline for submissions is April 15, 2021.
Quick Change Comic Strip
By Chen Hascalovitz
The Meanwhile team here at Mirvish Productions is always looking to create and curate the best content for our e-magazine. To commemorate our one-year anniversary we want to hear from you! If you could spare a few minutes of your time to answer a few questions, your feedback will help us to create an even better newsletter. Participants will be entered for a chance to win a $100 Gift card. Deadline is April 10, 2021 at 11:59 pm.