Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Yippies in Love: truly a riot


A current celebration of Vancouver, B.C.’s radical early-70s era presents the delightful fun and conviction (in both senses of the word) of an activist spirit. My husband Frank and I saw Bob Sarti’s play Yippies in Love at The Cultch last night, and I came away so enthused, I couldn’t sleep for too many hours later. Frank, a former New Yorker, commented: “This was way better than a lot of off-Broadway stuff  I’ve seen.)

This campy musical romp, “borrowed from a true story” of Vancouver history and Sarti’s own anarchic actions, recreates key public protests of 1970-71, using the ideals of a fictional Yippee household as its thematic lens. The love story begins unwittingly, when Andy (Steve Maddock), a U.S. surfer dude avoiding the Vietnam draft, decides to try and cross the border at Blaine, WA on May 9, 1970 — the same day that hundreds of peaceniks and Yippies from Vancouver invaded Blaine to protest the Vietnam war and claim the Peace Arch as their own. (Sarti still retains a small chunk of the Arch as a souvenir of his involvement that day.)

Caught up in this raucous group action, Andy meets plucky protester Julie (Danielle St. Pierre), a feminist single mom who cherishes her independence. She later invites him to join her household of Yippee enthusiasts (actors Bing Jensen, Emily Rowed and Rebecca Shoichet), who each play a series of characters, ranging from local Yippie motivator “The Wizard” to Vancouver Judge Les Bewley and the city’s former notorious hippy-baiting-and-hating mayor, Tom “Terrific” Campbell. All of the actors are excellent; my only criticism is that Bing Jensen’s singing voice didn’t project loudly enough to we folk in the last row.

One might expect a Question Authority play, which mocks The Man and slams capitalist power, to lay on the heavy rhetoric, but Sarti keeps the tone entertaining and educational, in irreverent Yippee style. His pithy lyrics are hilarious and the choreography routines, especially Dancin’ Doobies, are great. His use of news footage of police violence at events like the Gastown riot (on Aug. 9 1971) enhances the injustices rampant at the time, as do the excerpts from court transcripts that Sarti weaves into dialogue.

A retired Vancouver Sun reporter, Sarti projects above the stage numerous media headlines, including ones from The Sun, which aptly captured the public hysteria over peaceful protest. (As a cub reporter one summer at The Sun too many decades ago, I  benefited from Sarti’s information-sharing and enjoyed his reporting of non-Establishment events.) In the program for Yippies in Love, he thanks the Newspaper Guild, his union at the time, “for protecting my job security while I juggled two careers — while collar worker by day, white collar Yipppie by night.”

The play runs until July 3 and I urge anyone with an iota of activism in their blood to see it. Its message of grassroots action seems especially a propos while people riot and die for democracy in the Middle East, and Vancouver reels from the yahoo riots by drunken Canuck fans. (After today’s performance, Sarti is hosting a panel “Yippies and Yahoos: What’s the Difference?”)

Yippies in Love is dedicated to the memory of Sarti’s father Paolino, who fought fascism in Spain. It’s directed and produced by Jay Hamburger, artistic director of Theatre in the Raw, which bills itself as “giving exposure to voices seldom heard” since 1994. Jay appeared onstage to introduce the play, and read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “The World is a Beautiful Place” to evoke the protest tone of the early 1970s. The third stanza reads:

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don’t much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces.

Noted pianist and arranger Bill Sample, the play’s music director and composer, joined guitarist Robbie Steininger to energize the whole show with great live keyboard action, from ballads to Hendrix. All ’round, a wonderful experience.

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June 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm Comments (2)

Goo-goo, ga-ga: Raptors make great neighbours

             My husband likes to watch – bald eagles, that is. Every day, he has a telescope trained on the white-capped couple who live in the penthouse — a large nest of uneven sticks — in a Douglas fir across the street in Roberts Creek. Before moving to Canada’s west coast from the eastern U.S., he had never even seen a bald eagle. He’s enthralled by every screech and movement they make and always tries to get me to come to the telescope to watch them.


            Sometimes I do, but most of the time, I’m thinking: I’ve seen bald eagles for over thirty years. I’ve seen a pair join talons in the sky. I’ve seen one dive for a salmon and fly off. I’ve seen dozens of bald eagles of all ages in Brackendale, BC. While sleeping near the sea, I’ve been shaken awake by one when it landed on the tree that supported my hammock. I love hearing them cry and squeak and watching them soar while I’m working at my desk, but mostly, I’ve been a bit jaded when it comes to bald eagles.


            Until last week. My husband urged me, more emphatically than usual, to look through the scope. I did, and this time, saw a small fuzzy head rise slightly above the top of the nest. A baby! I felt like an auntie. My husband christened the youngster Chester. Today, my hubby made another discovery – Chester has a sibling. Hester. We’re thrilled. Who needs a 24-hour eaglecam? We’ve got our own vicarious family in the ‘hood.

June 19, 2011 at 10:20 pm Comment (1)

Offensive and absurd: recent ads hit an astounding new low

            There’s never any shortage of offensive advertising, but I found one recent  television ad so repulsive, I had to write about it.

            It has aired for a few months, seen by millions during the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s the TV ad for Old Milwaukee beer, showing vintage-style pinup images of two buxom and leggy women, wearing tight and scant outfits from the 1940s-50s era. They appear, in close-up, on either side of an Old Milwaukee beer can, as if they’re about to cuddle it.

            That imagery alone astounded me. I thought that by 2011, many major advertisers have begrudgingly matured enough to portray women as more than just the usual male sex objects. Does Pabst Brewing Company, which brews and owns Old Milwaukee, have such little regard for female sports fans?

            Well, these caricatures weren’t the worst of it. At a rare time when my remote wasn’t muted for commercial breaks during the hockey playoffs, I was appalled to hear the accompanying narration: “A free girl with every can.” How outrageous! This likens women to nothing more than a disposal party favour, ready on demand to provide pleasure and satisfaction — at no cost. What a disgusting affront to females of every age.

            For pure tasteless exploitation, this ranks almost as high as the United Colors of Benetton’s former ads, which used scenes from real-life Third World suffering to grab interest and juxtapose against their luxury fashions.

            Part of me is shocked that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation accepted this sexist piece of tripe, yet I know that the network is desperate for revenue. Ironically, decades ago, the CBC refused to run a short TV ad that portrayed logging companies, destroying B.C. forests, as bloated pigs. The ad was meant to present an alternative view  to the “Forests Forever” TV ads running on the network at the time. Outraged by the CBC decision, Vancouverite Kalle Lasn launched Adbusters, now an international magazine and media organization that slams consumer culture and mainstream advertising.

            I plan to write to both CBC and Pabst and let them know what I think about the Old Milwaukee ad. If you find this ad offensive, I encourage you to do the same.

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            When my husband told me this week that he heard a radio ad for a product called Fresh Balls, I was dumbfounded. What will marketers think of next? Is there any part of the human form left that adertisers haven’t identified as badly needing to be fixed in some way? Some wily, creative ad agency type must have figured: “Hey, why not grab guys by the balls (metaphorically)? Here’s a whole untapped market we can focus on.”

            The cream is supposed to keep “your private area” dry, clean and fresh, instead of “sweaty, sticky and chafing”, which apparently “all men suffer from.” Daily application is recommended as part of a man’s regular “grooming routine”; frequency uses up more product, right?

June 12, 2011 at 6:26 pm Comments (4)

Annie Leonard says: NOPE, We need systemic change

As far as inspirational speakers go, I’d put my friend Annie Leonard among the top. I recently heard her give a talk to several hundred folks on Salt Spring Island, BC in Canada’s Pacific Northwest. After listening to her impressive knowledge of depressing facts regarding pollution levels and how we’re destroying our planet — “We’re in a system in crisis” — you’d think that I’d come away feeling hopeless.

Not at all. Instead, her passion, smarts and insightful perspectives inspired me to take immediate action on an issue I had previously dismissed. Her talk expanded my view of how we can make meaningful and lasting change on a broader scale. I felt invigorated by her enthusiasm.

We’ve all heard the quick ways to help our planet: Ride a bike. Unplug appliances. Buy organic produce. Start a vegetable garden. Yet, when it comes to truly transforming the planet and society, a focus on small, individual actions is ultimately a placebo and mere distraction, says Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff fame.

“We’re so used to identifying with our consumer role: Shop differently,” she told a crowd of young and old at Salt Spring Island’s Centre for Child Honouring. “We have to start to re-engage as a citizen and engage in our civil society. Our citizen muscle has atrophied.”

She reinforced that individual lifestyle changes are not enough. As a provocative systems thinker, Annie believes that we need deeper, systemic change and to ask tougher questions beyond: Where should I shop? (She promotes the approach of “NOPE” (Not on Planet Earth) rather than the all-too-common NIMBY (Not in my backyard).) She asked a fundamental question: “Why is economy based on growth?” Who says that we need growth? What happened to “Small is beautiful”?

In Annie’s view, we need to rethink our role on the planet to the core, beyond commonly accepted approaches espoused even by many environmentalists. For instance, think in terms of “Waste less” not “Recycle more.”

She says: We need to change the rules of our production methods, to do a life cycle analysis of products. Resist upgrades of electronics. Make them safe. Make them last.

Annie identified our three “simple” problems:

  • We’re trashing the planet
  • We’re trashing each other
  • We’re not having fun.

Besides that, we’re carrying toxic body-burden levels, she says. Annie has had her own body analyzed for harmful chemicals and had 80+ identified. Today’s babies are born pre-polluted with high levels of chemicals found in their umbilical cord, she noted. At the same time, one billion people are chronically hungry.

Amidst North America’s rush for materialist goodies, Annie pointed out four things, according to researchers, that determine happiness:

  • the quality of our social relationships
  • having leisure time
  • a sense of purpose and  meaning in our life
  • coming together with others with shared goals.

Facing an audience that included Green Party leader Elizabeth May in the front row, Annie outlined a few of her solutions for creating a healthier planet of happier people:

  • Build a clean, healthy, green economy.
  • Apply technology to help the planet, whether it’s using zero-waste designers or  biomimicry, whereby scientists study and emulate the processes and systems of nature to solve human problems. For example, how does a peacock make black? (See Biomimicry Institute for more details.)
  • Honour and embrace children as a culture. One way is to have nation-wide, annual testing of breast milk, to monitor what chemicals our vulnerable infants are ingesting. Elizabeth May stood up and told the group: “Nobody can breastfeed without fear on this planet.” Annie expressed her own dismay and worry while breastfeeding: industry has contaminated our most elemental human relationship. (Find out more at Making Our Milk Safe.)

Another way to honour children is to spend more time with them. As  a  single mom who’s on the  road a lot, Annie makes quality time with her daughter Dewi a top priority. When she can, she brings Dewi with her as a combined work trip/holiday. “Children should be first and foremost in our decision-making,” she said.

Our education system offers a great forum for honouring children and offering them ways to serve the planet and society. Annie has worked with teachers to develop curriculum and actions guides for youth around her concepts in The Story of Stuff. (She shared how neocon commentator Glenn Beck raged against her for a week on his previous talk show, telling schools that they should punish any teacher who showed The Story of Stuff in class.)

  • Adopt the same regulatory approach as the European Union. For example, the EU has banned 11,000 chemicals; the United States has banned only 11.
  • “Get corporations out of our democracy.” As event host, Raffi (Annie’s friend, a well-known children’s entertainer and founder of the Centre for Child Honouring) asked: “What choices are you being given by corporations?”

Overall, Annie reinforced that we need to make doing the right thing our default action. In her simplest terms: “hope, love, truth — not fear.” She said: “We need to rebuild community and communication. There is a giant dim sum table of possibilities.” Let’s dig in.

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June 5, 2011 at 6:03 am Comments (0)