Mylène Chicoine is no stranger to horror. She founded Festival de la Bête Noire as a way to share what helps her to de-stress.

While some turn to comedy and laughter, for Chicoine and those like her, it’s horror and horror-themed art that allow them a form of catharsis, freeing themselves from their demons by confronting them head on.

Festival de la Bête Noire is a horror theatre festival that normally has hosted shows that audiences take in on site and in-person since 2018. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a great toll on the arts.

Theaters are closed, and gatherings that would allow for live shows are banned for now. For those needing to keep art and culture alive, the pandemic and the ensuing public health measures have presented a lot of challenges and the name of the game has been adapt or die.

Festival de la Bête Noire has decided to go online this year and I spoke with Mylène Chicoine about what that means.

“We’re not doing in it an actual physical space,” she said. “It’s a multimedia online event from people’s living rooms. We’ve removed the physical aspect completely.”

In order to keep the authenticity of live theater consistent with the spirit of past festivals, Chicoine and her team decided to have as little postproduction as possible, meaning that recorded shows should try to minimize editing and video effects after recording.

“We are NOT a movie festival, we are a THEATRE festival. We still want to see theatre, and performance, and live art even though it’s technically not live.”

When asked about the response to the change in format this year, she said most of the responses have been extremely positive, admitting that Bête Noire almost didn’t happen this year due to the pandemic. The festival happened because of the outpouring of support from the theatre community and its fans.

“We had a lot of demand from the community: Are we doing it this year? Are we doing it? Is it going to happen? We need it. The biggest motivation for the team was the community wants it so we’re going to give it to them.”

Festival de la Bête Noire has 16 shows this year. Two of the shows are mixed shows featuring separate performances within a single show.

The virtual festival has a few alumni, including the The Malicious Basement, Quagmire Productions, and Marissa Blair. In the name of transparency, I myself am acting and handling design for Quagmire’s Poe in the Snow.

Chicoine says that festival alumni were given an extra week to apply knowing that they are faithful participants who have provided good content in the past.

“We like to have repeat performers because it gives them a name and a platform that they need.”

The virtual format has not been without its challenges. Many artists expressed concerns about the ban on post-production, claiming that the festival was trying to restrict their art.

“We don’t want to restrict their art, we want to restrict their technology, that’s the big difference. If you’re in a venue, you’re not using a green screen, you wouldn’t use one in your living room either. We don’t want to make it look like a movie, but of course we’ve had to be a bit more flexible, especially with the new lockdown.”

Chicoine says the festival’s limits on technology this year were among some of the biggest challenges for performers. It forced performers to stretch their creative muscles and think outside the box.

Other challenges for the Festival de la Bête Noire were unfortunate realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. People involved with the companies and performers or their loved ones were exposed to the virus and either got sick and/or were forced to self-isolate. The pandemic itself resulted in some theatre companies dropping out of the festival entirely.

“We understand completely that these things are going to happen and we have had production meetings with every company that has required one to formulate a different kind of plan, whether it’s an extension, being more flexible on technology, but unfortunately we did lose a couple of companies to COVID.”

Most of the companies that dropped out were outside of Montreal and could not participate due to the pandemic, while some participants even got sick and died. It has been really upsetting for everyone involved with Bête Noire, but Chicoine and her team anticipated this happening.

Festival de la Bête Noire 2021 is fulfilling its mandate by giving artists and performers a platform to explore the horror genre by performing, creating and watching, and being a part of something, bringing people together in a socially distant way.

When I asked Chicoine if there were any advantages to going virtual, she pointed to fact that it allowed for more international entries, speaking of participating companies in the US and as far away as Japan. Chicoine mentioned The Peony Lantern by The Yokohama Group, a multimedia performance that takes place in the World Peace Theatre in Kawasaki, Japan.

Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, Mylène Chicoine is preparing for disaster, but it has not dampened her excitement for the shows on offer this year. When asked if there were any shows she was particularly excited about, she mentioned Pento by Mad Paradox, a show about mental health issues.

As for the technicalities regarding the accessing the shows, Chicoine and her team demurred from using sites like YouTube and TikTok because they’re too restrictive. In order to avoid the censorship that comes with those sites, all ticket holders will be sent a Google Drive link to their show which gives them one week to watch it at their convenience. Viewers don’t need a Gmail account to access the link.

Festival de la Bête Noire is running virtually from February 17, 2021 to March 15, 2021. For more info check out

Otakuthon is now in it’s 6th year. It is the largest and longest running otaku convention in Montreal. Otaku, being Japanese for fan, in reference to animations, comics, and video games. The 2012 Otakuthon convention has it all for fans of manga, anime , video games, cosplay, and other Japanese pop culture products, like music and film.

This year will feature many events, including a LARP (Live Action Role Playing), a fashion show, a masquerade, a Sunday-morning brunch, and more.

Otakuthon was started in 1996 by Concordia students who were members of “Otaku Anime”, a club for fans and enthusiasts of Japanese animation. The club first hosted “Animethon”, which soon evolved into Otakuthon.

It is similar to Comic-Con, but without the international pomp and irritation that Comic-Con has been known for in the past. Many attendees prefer to attend in costume dressed as their favorite Japanese anime or video game character, as furries, plushies, or even one’s favorite western comicbook or movie characters. The Masquerade is one of the greatest traditions of Otakuthon. This reminds me, I need to get my costume together!

Otakuthon is a bilingual event, and runs from August 3–5.

*photo by Ydolon (Flickr)

The war in Japan has been over for more than sixty-five years, but if you didn’t know any better you might think the war was still going on, judging from some of the images we’ve seen in the last few days. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake on Friday was so powerful that it shifted the entire main island of Japan as much as two meters. And yet, most of the damage has come from the subsequent tsunami that flushed away miles of the northeastern coast of Japan.

As if the two simultaneous natural disasters weren’t enough; six nuclear reactors in three different plants were still overheating, with two of them being pumped full of seawater in a last ditch effort to avoid a meltdown. A partial meltdown in at least one of them is still highly probable.

As of Sunday evening 1400 people are confirmed dead with another 1700 injured. The number of dead is expected to rise with 9500 people unaccounted for in the town of Minami Sanriku alone. At least 1.4 million people are without running water and another 1.9 million people are without electricity.

The government has doubled the number of soldiers deployed to the aid effort to 100,000 and sent 120,000 blankets, 120,000 bottles of water and 29,000 gallons of gasoline plus food to the affected areas.

More than 50 different countries have pledged to aid the people of Japan by supplying search and rescue teams and other logistical support.

It’s always hard to accept the suffering of men, women and children no matter the circumstances, but when it happens in one of the world’s top economic power houses it always seems to hit us a little bit harder. Last year’s earthquake in Haiti measured 7.0 and was in all likelihood ten times more deadly then the more powerful 8.9 that the Japanese received a few days ago, but I guess the average person can be just as affected (if not more so) by the destruction of expensive infrastructure as they are by the cost of human life.

As heartbreaking as the news from Japan has been, I have to say at the same time that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer country and it couldn’t have happened to a better country. No country in the world is as prepared for earthquakes as Japan and for that their people should be proud and thankful. An 8.9 earthquake anywhere else on earth could have looked like something out of the Book of Revelations. It just goes to show how far a few extra dollars can go in protecting the citizens of a country. Unfortunately for the people of Japan, no country can properly prepare for a tsunami that hit so quickly.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan said in an address to the nation that the twin disasters have brought Japan its worst crisis since the Second World War. With the temperature dipping below zero in parts of the tsunami hit north, the situation is indeed dire, but unlike in Haiti, the wealth of Japan makes the situation far from hopeless.

Before and after photos:

Despite Japan’s relative wealth, there is still an urgent need for donations to help those affected by the twin disasters. Please consider contributing to the Humanitarian Coalition (Oxfam, CARE and Save the Children).

So here we go, I’m packing my bags and getting ready to go to head out to Canadian Music Week in Toronto.

Diary. Check. Pens and crayons. Check. Toothpaste. Black scribe gloves. Check.   Sun glasses (because I wear my sunglasses in the dark). Check.

Okay its 10 o’clock, ready to go. Wait a minute. This is Montreal, a city where it rains and snows simultaneously. So I sit for two hours waiting for the photographer (Chris Zacchia) and our movie reviewer (Stephanie Laughlin).

It   turns out they were stuck in an alleyway covered in three feet of snow,   I tried to help push the car through the alley which was covered with a sheet of ice under the snow. It appeared to be an impossible feat, especially after two hours of pushing only got us a few meters away.

Either Montreal really loves us and refuses to let us leave or winter really hates us. We finally picked up the music columnist (Cassie Doubleday) and left 3 hours late. Oh well, better late than never. On with the show, here are some of the bands I plan on seeing:

Thursday, March 10th

The River Junction
(Cadillac Club)

The River Junction are a pure progressive country rock band, but with an edge of hard rock influence. What you are going to hear are great female/male harmonies between Derek Hardy and Tammy Steeper that bring out the best in country music. After listening to this band one time it’s not hard to see why they are quickly becoming Toronto’s most popular and influential country band. This is a strange pick for me, but the truth is   I’m a secret cowboy at heart.

(Bovine Sex Club, 11pm)

They are one of the Montreal bands that constantly tour and have been all over Canada several times over. They released The Promise EP in 2005 and the full0-length Odds Against Tomorrow in 2006, playing nearly 1100 shows since their inception. If you like heavy debris-falling metal then Endast is the band of you.

Zeus: conducting the elements (photo courtesy of the band)

(Horseshoe Tavern,   12:20 am)

Zeus conduct the elements of rock, country, blues and punk and generally, are very fun to listen to. The founding members Mike O’Brien and Carlin Nicholson met in high school. Since then things have really started to happen for the group, their band has toured across Canada and have become a staple of the rock scene.

Friday March 11

Hooded Fang
(Horse Shoe Tavern 10:20 pm)

Daniel Lee, April Aliermo, Julia Barnes, Nicholas Hune-Brown, Lane Halley, Lorna Wright and D.Alex Meeks are the hooded Fang. They bring out the best in their audience with their crazy and raucous live shows.   Since the release their EP in 2008, the band has gotten some pretty good press and acclaim. Really looking forward to seeing them and you should too.

Cuff The Duke
(Horseshoe Tavern 12:20am)

One of my favorite bands that I’ve been ready to see ever since their debut album Life Stories for Minimum Wage was released. I have been thoroughly impressed with their work. Their new release Way Down Here was co-produced by   Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo and their last few albums have been impressively emotional.

Saturday, March 12

Oh Tokyo! The Zoobombs (image courtesy of the band)

The Zoobombs
(Bait Shop 3:30 pm)

Oh Japan! Now composed of Don Matsuo (vocals/guitar), Matta (keyboards), and Moostop (bass), The Zoobombs were formed in 1994. The band has has quite a ride around the world, touring pretty much everywhere. I am exceed to see their brand of live punk-rock blues. Many critics have called   The Zoobomb one of the greatest live indie acts in the world. Well,   I for one don’t doubt it! Looking forward to the afternoon.

The Sadies
(The Mod Club, 7:30pm)

The Sadies are already are a well-established band in Canada who had a real break out. Their newest album out Dark Circles might be their best work to date, created with legendary Jayhawk producer Gary Louris. The Sadies reached popularity with their last album Country Club. Acclaimed by critics, The Sadies are known for bleeding psychedelic. Beware, The Sadies might rock you to your core.

Union City
(Comfort Zone   9:00 pm)

Union City have receive a lot of good press from Peterborough, Ontario’s the Wolf, the local radio station. I picked this band out of a hat and listened to   a few songs and they sound like something I might be interested in hearing. Looking forward to seeing them. I’ll tell you what happens.

Les Breastfeeders
El Moncambo 12:20 am

Quebec represent! Montreal bands are making a big splash across Canada in the music scene and Les Breastfeeders‘ Francophone mix of Kinks-style guitar and is getting great recognition, even from the English. Their popularity has risen since their first release Déjeuner sur l’herbe brought them popularity and acclaim in Quebec and their second album,   also released in France during the winter of 2007, brought them acclaim across the ocean.

Wild live show? You bet! Pustki (image courtesy of the band)

(Czehoski 2:20 am)

If you ever wanted to know what’s going on in the music scene in Poland these days you can now find out. Their live bands are known for being excessive, lively and sometimes frightening. This band in particular is known for their memorable live performances. They have, I would have to say, a pretty interesting and unique style influenced by synth pop and guitar rock.

To find out how to get to these shows and more, please check out the CMW venue list.

Everyone should know that over the last week we marked the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. On August 6th 1945, a four-tonne uranium bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” detonated over Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people. Three days later, Nagasaki was devastated by a plutonium bomb nicknamed “Fat Man” killing another 80,000 people.

the Atomic Bombs Fat Man & Little Boy

Despite several months of heavy fire bombings to over sixty Japanese cites (cities constructed mainly out of wood houses), the Empire of Japan refused to surrender unconditionally.   Hiroshima & Nagasaki were spared the same fire bombings in order to accurately examine the damage the new armaments would bring.   The destruction and death was so substantial that only Mother Nature could ever hope to top it.

With Japan at the time being surrounded and bombed routinely on a daily basis as well as the declaration of war by the Russians, the debate over the use of the bombs has and will continue to rage on for decades to come.   Did the United States intend to simply save the lives of tens of thousands of American service men that would have been needed for a ground invasion?   Or did President Truman want to show off America’s might and put some fear into the Russians?

Some believe that Hiroshima was a necessary evil, but that Nagasaki was too soon after as the Imperial Government of Japan did not have sufficient time to formulate the unconditional surrender that the United States had been demanding.

Mushroom Cloud Over Nagasaki, August 9th 1945

Regardless of the reason, I believe Truman and company were guilty of war crimes.   Even if reports and images from the bomb sites hadn’t been censored at the time, it would have been hard to convince the American public to turn in their newly victorious leader.   After all, the Japanese were so hated that 13% of Americans actually favored genocide to deal with the Japanese problem.

Since that fateful week in 1945, no one has been a more vocal opponent of nuclear proliferation than the Japanese.   Who better to listen to than the only country to ever be on the receiving end of not one, but two atomic bombings?   Clearly though, a small, but important part of the world has never paid attention.

The cold war saw a massive build up of nuclear weapon stockpiles between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.   During the sixties, the United States had accumulated roughly thirty thousand warheads, while in Russia they were up to about forty-five thousand at the fall of the Soviet Union.   The levels have since fallen to about twenty thousand between them, still enough to blow up the world a few times over, however.

The other nuclear armed members of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) other than the U.S. and Russia are the United Kingdom, France and China.   Of course, these countries are also the only five permanent nations on the UN Security Council.   They are also responsible for more than 75% of the world’s total conventional weapons sales… securing the world and arming it at the same time.

India, Pakistan, North Korea and (most say) Israel are the other remaining nuclear armed non-NPT countries.

With the cold war over and the world fully aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons having seen firsthand the destruction in Japan and then taking a deep breath through the Cuban missile crisis, why are we seeing other nations in the 21st century trying to get their hands on the tools of mutually assured destruction?   The answer I believe ironically is fear.

The Destructive Power of the Nagasaki Bomb

When the Little Boy & the Fat Man fell over Hiroshima & Nagasaki, the A-bomb was used solely as an offensive weapon.   Since then it has been used exclusively as a deterrent.   When former American President George W. Bush coined and threatened in a state of the union address the “axis of evil” he also said that all options are on the table (including the nuclear one), he later followed up by invading one of them.   The only defensive conclusion that the other regimes could think of is acquiring the same nuclear option.   No country has ever invaded another nuclear armed nation.

In spite of the dangerous games that certain countries continue to play, it’s encouraging to see more and more delegates from other countries going to Hiroshima and Nagasaki every year to commemorate the anniversary of those historic, yet horrific days.   Hopefully, one day the nuclear powers of the world will listen to what Japan has been saying for the past sixty-five years and realize that these weapons really have only one use.

The United States has never complied with demands in Japan for an apology for the loss of innocent lives in the atomic bombings.