The Toronto Star
August 6, 1994
Adults Just Wanna Have Fun
It’s like being a kid again at the Avenue Road Arts School
where people can be as loud, messy and creative as they want
BY JANICE DINEEN
Radio personality Andy Barrie used to think it was his own private passion — belting out Broadway show tunes in the shower or wailing them out as he drives along the highway.
Then he came across the Avenue Road Arts School and discovered a whole class full of enthusiastic fellow belters and wailers.
“I found that singing ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ at the top of your lungs is a secret vice for a lot of people,” he says. “And singing together is one of the great simple pleasures of life.”
Barrie has already taken the class in singing Broadway show tunes three times and be plans to take it again. “It’s amazingly therapeutic,” he observes, “and it’s a lot of fun.”
Fun for adults in unexpected activities is a specialty at the school just south of St. Clair Ave. on Avenue Rd. It has courses for children, as well, but it encourages adults to be as loud and messy and colorful and funny and wildly creative as they’ve always secretly wished to be.
There are adult classes in puppet making, magic, crime writing, cartooning, papier-maché, stand-up comedy, pottery, sign language, and many other unusual things that aim at addressing many adults’ buried yearnings.
The school has courses in how to write a journal, how to do calligraphy, how to appreciate architecture and how to paint with watercolor. There’s a rhythm workshop which includes drumming on a radiator clamp, and a special class called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, for people who are scared of drawing but really want to try it.
Toronto fashion designer and retailer Robin Kay found that plunging her arms into a mass of day at the arts school pottery class was a whole new world after running her clothing company. Unlike her employees, neither the teacher nor the clay accepted her as the boss.
“It felt funny having to follow instructions. I was very resistant,” she says. “And I was forced to let go of control because I never knew how the clay was going to turn out. Once, I was making a teapot, but it became a vase.
“When I did make a teapot, I covered it with spots and labeled it ‘a very dotty teapotty.’ I was silly and ridiculous and I’m proud to say I became a pottery fool. We made beautiful, beautiful things.” Kay was so delighted at the good influence pottery-making had on her, and at the fun she had with it, that the course inspired her to take it up in a big way. “I’ve bought a kiln and a wheel and everything, and I’m going to set up a pottery studio,” she says.
Etobicoke psychologist David Factor found himself onstage at Yuk Yuk’s comedy club entertaining a roomful of strangers with his original five-minute comic routine as a result of the stand-up comedy course he took at the arts school. Teacher Max Korn taught him to go for five laughs a minute, and to tell his second-best joke first, and his best joke last.
“I was pretty scared — well, numb is the word that comes to mind for the time I was up there — but I was really glad I did it and I plan to do it again,” Factor says. “I don’t have any fantasies of going to Jay Leno next week, but I love writing comedy and I was very happy with this course. It was exactly what I wanted.” Actress Tita Griffin, who also performed at Yuk Yuk’s, says she enjoyed meeting the funny people who took the comedy course, and she got a lot of satisfaction in overcoming her fear, getting up on stage and making people laugh. “I was terrified, but I did it and it was wonderful,” she says.
Lola Rasminsky, founder and director of the arts school, started it 15 years ago as a fine arts kindergarten in the basement of her house. When parents began banging around wanting to participate in the art activities, she decided to organize a few courses strictly for adults.
The first one indulged a long-held desire of Rasminsky’s — singing Broadway show tunes. “I was basically quite a shy person and it was fun for me to discover how much I could ham it up singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ It really helped me to come out of my shell.”
After that she started a life drawing class and a writing group, and new programs kept blossoming from there.
Last year Rasminsky bought a big old house next door to Toronto’s Brown School and moved her whole arts school into it.
She’s working 14-hour days including weekends while she gets the new, expanded program into full swing. “I’m waitress, administrator, caretaker and teacher.
“I chose this house because it feels like what we had in my home and maintains a personal feeling to it all.
“It’s probably the Jewish mother in me, but I’m always putting food out. I set out fruit and coffee for the adults’ courses.”
The venture hasn’t been a financial success yet, she says, but the highly subscribed children’s classes make up for the lesser-known adult classes and she gets many non-financial rewards from the work.
It’s given me such a kick to see people discover what they’ve got inside and to feel excited about it,” Rasminsky says. “I’ve dreamed of doing this for years and it’s exhilarating to realize a dream this way.”