Media, Darling: J. Kelly Nestruck

J. Kelly Nestruck is
the theatre critic at The Globe and Mail, and has been so since 2008. His
writings about the arts and theatre have also appeared in such publications
as the National Post, the Toronto Star, Toronto Life, The Boston Globe and The
. He has appeared on
The National, been heard on CBC Radio’s Q, and tweets all the live-long day

In addition to work, Nestruck is currently pursuing a Master’s from the Centre
for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto. He
likes to garden, cycle around the city, and the J stands for James.

Photo credit: Catherine Farquharson.

Twitter: @Nestruck
Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other
careers were on the horizon?

No – when I was five, I wanted to be a firefighter. But from my teens on, my
twin passions were theatre and newspapers. The newspaper business seemed like
the wiser route financially at the time…

Where would you like to be five years from now?

I prefer to go where life takes me, but I’d be happy to still be here doing
what I’m doing now. It’d be nice have a kid to take to Young People’s Theatre.
Or at least a dog to take to Young Dogs’ Theatre.

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?

Have you considered the skilled trades?

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own? 

Theatre-wise, I love to read all my competitors at the Toronto dailies and
weeklies, plus online voices such as Lynn Slotkin, Stage Door and the
Charlebois Post. Scott Brown in New York Magazine; Chris Jones at the Chicago
; the whole theatre package in The Guardian. I subscribe to the NewYorker and The Onion, listen to This is That and Q on CBC Radio, and watch The
and Dragon’s Den. I read Garth Turner’s blog every day to get over my
renter inferiority complex.

Best interview you’ve ever had? Worst?

Best – playwright John Mighton in 2004. His pet rat Cookie escaped and I got to
watch him scramble around with his daughter to catch it.  Worst –
playwright Michael Frayn. I accidentally unplugged my computer with my foot
while interviewing him over the phone.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t go to journalism school.

What rule(s) do you live your life by?

I do not have a body; I am a body.

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?

Add your theatre openings to my online calendar:
I can’t keep track of emails any more.

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.

Ann Swerdfager at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is a real delight to work
with – and I have to work with her a lot, so thank goodness!

I hate?

Stickers. They creep me out.

I love?

Seeing a show I loved find an audience.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Best place on earth?

Mount Royal when the leaves turn.

Dinner guest?

Christopher Hitchens, RIP.


Nick Auf Der Maur, RIP.

Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?

iAnnotate” is the reason I own an iPad.

Pool or ocean?


Voicemail or email?

Oh, email PLEASE.

Theatre show in the fall season you’re most looking forward to?

Alligator Pie at Soulpepper!

Media, Darling: Kevin Sweet

Kevin Sweet is the arts reporter and theatre critic for Le Téléjournal Ontario, Radio-Canada’s nightly television newscast.
He is also featured every Thursday on
CBC News Toronto at 11.

In 2006, a documentary he co-produced about the
Rwandan genocide earned him a national journalism award as well as an
international broadcasting award from the New York Festivals.

Kevin has been with the nation’s public broadcaster for the
past 10 years. Six of those were spent as an arts reporter and theatre critic in
Edmonton, Alberta.

An Anglophone from Québec, he is fluent in both French and English.

Twitter: @sweetonarts

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other
careers were on
the horizon?
I always knew that I’d do something artistic and related to
performance, but 
what shape that would take didn’t clearly articulate itself
university. As a child I remember at one point wanting to be
a teacher;
 would always set up a mock classroom in our garage. Then as I got older,
I became 
fascinated by choreography. Like most people my age I remember
Michael Jackson videos and trying to recreate his dance
moves in our 
basement.  And then I
became obsessed with watching figure skating.
 Kurt Browning and Kristi Yamaguchi were childhood heroes of mine.
But I never 
became a dancer or a skater. Then, when college came around, I thought I’d follow in my sister’s steps and become a psychologist. But
I’ve never been 
good in math or sciences, two pre-requisites for the
 So, in university I decided to do a bachelor’s degree in communications. It was a
wide ranging enough 
program that I was able to touch on a lot of things,
including broadcasting. 
And, well, as they say…the rest is history. Through hard work and opening myself to being guided by the right people and their advice,
here I am. So 
now, even though I never knew that I wanted to be a
broadcaster, I couldn’t 
see myself doing anything else. (PS – I still sometimes
dance to Michael 
Jackson music by myself, in my living room. Believe me, I
can still bust a 

Where would you like to be five years from now?
I’ve always dreamed of having my own talk-show, either on
TV or radio. 
Anything that allows me to interview people and get to know
them well. 
Sometimes TV news is so rushed and fickle. A sound-bite
never allows you to 
go in-depth.

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Work hard, but remember to make time for yourself and friends
– someone who’s 
happy in life will be happy at work. Be curious. It’s not always about who you know but WHAT you know. Constantly ask for feedback, be open to constructive criticism and then challenge yourself with it.
Offer feedback 
to people who are working with you. Say yes to every single
opportunity that 
is offered to you, even though it seems like grunt work that
doesn’t quite 
match your goals. Be yourself. People watching or listening
at home can tell 
when you aren’t. Always apologize when you screw up –
character is built by 
successes and mistakes. Take time to recognize when someone has done a good job, they in turn will validate someone else’s work. Know what you want, and say it – people will always align with a vision that is
clearly. A French producer once told me “organize yourself, before someone else does it for you.”

What are your
favourite media 
outlets, not including your own? 
On a daily basis I read the arts sections of the Toronto Star, the Globe
and Mail
, the 
National Post, the Huffington Post and La Presse. At night,
before bed, I’ll 
usually go back and skim through the headlines (because in
some shape or 
form, news informs art). And I gotta vouch for my own team here: I can’t start my
morning without 
Matt Galloway, The Current and Jian Ghomeshi’s daily

Best interview you’ve ever had? 
Adele. She said she found
herself talking 
about things she wouldn’t even tell her mum.

Norah Jones. Yes, really! I was surprised too!

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
From my mom: Be a nice person, see every day as a gift, and
make sure that 
whatever talent you’ve been given is used to accomplish
something good. And 
from a university professor: When you want something done,
give it to 
someone who’s already busy.
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Curiosity and empathy. When we are curious about others, we learn more about them and the easier it becomes to empathize. Honesty: mean what you say, and say what you mean. Be responsible for your own
actions and your 
life. Listen: to others and yourself.  Be self-aware: self-awareness is the first step to self-accomplishment. Be on time.

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
I am not your mouth piece. You are not my bitch. We work together.

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear
about #wins.
I vividly remember getting out of bed one night at midnight
to answer an 
email. I didn’t know who the bigger loser was: me for
answering, or the 
person who was still at work at that hour. But because you develop a friendship and respect for one another, it isn’t something
you mind doing. 
It’s like getting a text message from a buddy. And, all the peeps at TIFF are pros. Class all around, grace
under fire. A 
huge event, but they make you feel like family.

I hate?
People who can’t communicate properly.

I love?
Debating ideas.

At the
moment I’m reading Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth
It’s my third attempt at reading this mammoth 975-page novel
about the 
building of a cathedral in the 12th century.

Best place on earth? 
Anywhere there isn’t cellphone
reception and time to do 
nothing but get lost in a book.

Dinner guest?
I’d love to sit down with Alanis Morissette and God.

My mother. For
raising three kids alone and not letting them stray 
off the right path.

Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)? 
“Camera +”…a nifty little app that allows you to edit your pictures in
your iPhone. You
almost feel like a professional photographer.

Pool or ocean? 
Ocean, always. As long as there is a beach close by. I’m terrified of being out in open water, especially at night.

Voicemail or email? 
Email. The written word is beautiful.

Theatre show in the fall season you’re most looking forward
Honestly, all of them. Always go into a play with no expectations, and
allow yourself 
to be surprised. It’s one of the only art forms where you
are really an 
important part of the process.

City Living: Best Arts Programmes

We love attending as many events around the city as possible, but a busy social calendar can be a strain on the wallet. That’s why we take advantage of the amazing discount ticket programs that many arts organizations in our fair city offer patrons under 30 years old. Over 30? Find your youngest friend/cousin/colleague and tag along as his or her companion. Several of these organizations will give you the deal, too.

Opera for a New Age

COC’s Tosca
Image source.

The Canadian Opera Company reserves 150 seats at each performance for its Opera for a New Age program. If you’re 29 or under, tickets to each performance are only $22. If your companion is over 30, this program allows you to purchase a ticket for him or her as well, regardless of age. Tickets for the spring calendar, featuring The Tales of Hoffman, A Florentine Tragedy / Gianni Schicchi and Semele, go on sale March 31. Don’t wait too long, because the discounted tickets sell quickly.


The Game of Love and Chance
Image source.

$12.50 will buy you a ticket to see live theatre, courtesy of Canadian Stage’s C-Stage program. Tickets are available to purchase two weeks before the performance, and you must be a registered member of the C-Stage program to take advantage (registering is free). Your companion must also be under 30 to qualify for a discounted ticket. Tickets to Dark Matters are currently on sale, while The Game of Love and Chance goes on sale April 1.


The Sleeping Beauty 
 Image source.

The National Ballet of Canada offers its DanceBreak program for people 16 to 29 years old. Join the free membership program, and you are eligible to purchase $30 tickets on the day of the performance. Over 29? You can still find affordable tickets through the Rush Tickets program. Beginning at 11 a.m. on the day of an eligible performance, tickets are available for $35 each at the box office. We’re especially excited about The Sleeping Beauty, running March 10 to 18.


Image source.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra offers $14 tickets for patrons under 35 through the tsosoundcheck program. Spend an evening listening to live classical music by great composers like Brahms and Beethoven, or experience more modern fare with the Pops series. Tickets typically go on sale a week before the performance, so check the website for upcoming concerts. Subscription packages for the 2012/2013 schedule are on sale, with tickets as low as three concerts for $66. We already have our eye on West Side Story with Orchestra in May 2013, a screening of the movie accompanied by a live performance of the musical score.


Image source.

Have you fallen in love with the arts through these programs? We thought so. Now get your arts fix with Opera Atelier’s Operatix program. Opera Atelier performances are a unique blend of theatre, opera and ballet, and people under 30 may purchase discounted tickets to any performance for $20. The next show is Armide, playing April 14 to 21.

Media, Darling: Deirdre Kelly

Deirdre Kelly has been a staff writer with The Globe and Mail since 1985. Her first book, Paris Times Eight (Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre), a memoir using eight trips to Paris over a 30-year period to map a coming-of-age story, was published last year and is now a national best-seller. More info about the book can be found on her website.
How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
That’s an obvious question, but I’m afraid I will give something of a slippery response: I often come up with my own ideas. That’s the nature of my job; I have to be aware of trends, what’s being talked and written about, and generally follow my gut. I have good instincts after more than 25 years at The Globe and Mail (yes, I am that old) and can spot a story 10 miles off, if not a year before it really becomes news elsewhere, and well before a publicist tells me that they have something new to tell me.
PRs don’t tend to pitch trend stories, which, by necessity, would involve a variety of sources and points of view beyond their own client. I have always striven to think and write outside a press release. I dislike very much the idea that a journalist is merely an adjunct to someone’s publicity or marketing department.
That said, I have some regular features that need to be filed weekly, and am open to enterprising publicists who are reading those features. These include two new columns I write for the Saturday Style section: In the Mix and My Favourite Room. There have been a few instances where a PR has sent an email with the subject heading “In the Mix”, and then suggested a drink and/or bar for me to profile. Do I open this email as soon as I see it? Hell, yes! Said PR, by showing such winning initiative, instantly has my attention! I am THRILLED beyond words that they’ve taken notice of the column and have come up with a candidate that might suit my purposes. The same goes for My Favourite Room, though I must say sometimes the candidates aren’t hugely noteworthy, or worse, they ain’t got style. These are pitches based on having a client they want to push my way, and it’s not always the right fit. But, hey, I’ll never fault anyone for trying.
So, to answer your question: the ideal pitch would be conceived as a story with a unique angle and broad reach, an idea ultimately promoting the creation of an article saying something not said before.
What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
Speed and a certain degree of intelligence go a long way in my books. I work for a daily newspaper. The deadlines come screaming at me, every day. If I need something, I usually needed it yesterday, and it really helps when a PR basically drops everything and hustles to get me what I ask for. I am completely aware of how tyrannical that sounds, and believe me, I do apologize whenever the demand appears brusque and last minute. But I can’t help it. I really can’t. The newspaper is a ferociously hungry beast; it devours copy by the second.
As for the requirement of intelligence, what I mean is the ability to think while running ragged on your feet trying to confirm a fact, find a source or a quote for my story. I’ve had instances when a seasoned PR has known to refuse a quote if it doesn’t fit the needs of the story, and cajoled the subject to come up with something better. That’s the sign of a pro, and after the dust has settled, boy, do I remember that person. Next time, if they’re the ones pleading for me to do something for them, I will do everything in my power to repay the favour.

What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
Getting way too personal over a story. I’ve had this happen to me more times than I care to remember. This happened even recently over a style story I wrote, where the PR sent me a poison pen email, chastising me for not putting her client, whom I gave lots of ink, in the top graph. Wow. Talk about burning your bridges. Blatant hostility from PR people is more common than you might think. But I tended to experience it more often during my 15 years as The Globe and Mail’s dance critic. I was basically licensed to state my opinion in print, and sometimes that opinion wasn’t always complimentary about the production at hand.
Some publicists would hate me for stating my mind and punish me by making it difficult for me to access talent for future stories and deny me access to their events. I was once even refused review tickets to a show, and had to buy them on my credit card. Did the PR really think I wouldn’t review them, anyway? I’d love to name names. Unfortunately, there are quite a few. 
I guess my message is to develop a thick skin, and know that the world is made more interesting by having difference of opinion in it (or just differences, period).

My pet peeve
Besides having my name continually misspelled and mispronounced, (for the record I say my name DEAR-DREE, but I’ve had every variation, including Derrière, my all-time favourite). My biggest pet peeve is when publicists haven’t done their research and haven’t a clue as to what I do or have done at the paper. When I became a fashion reporter in 2000, after being an award-winning critic in the arts department for over a decade, I had a number of rather callow PR’s call and congratulate me on my recent hire. They would ask me where I was before, and when I said, “Here all along you dork,” (no, I didn’t, but I wanted to), there would be a strained silence on the other end. But beside having fun with them, those PRs taught me humility.
In this business, you really are as good as your last byline, and if people didn’t read the arts pages and were only fixated on dresses, then, really, who was I to call them on it? Journalists can be too often full of themselves, and I think it’s good to be reminded that you aren’t the queen bee when deadline rolls around. At the end of the day, it’s about teamwork and being respectful while getting the job done well.
What also bothers me is a PR who carpet-bombs the newspaper with the same request for a story/interview, and not let all of us know that more than one of us is poised to show up at the same event. That’s just bad form.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Some of my best friends are publicists. Really. I say this in case I’ve come across as too holier-than-thou. But it’s true. I feel I owe much of my career to hard-working, self-sacrificing, smart, funny, endearing, one-of-a-kind (I’m thinking here of the incomparable Gino Empry, rest his soul) publicists who have helped me develop my stories done well, and deliver them on time. I love you all!
Here’s a story to share:
As a fledgling journo, a true wannabe penning weekly dance reviews for The Varsity, the student newspaper at the University of Toronto where I was an undergraduate, I arrived one evening to Toronto Dance Theatre to review a program showcasing the choreography of company founders, Patricia Beatty, David Earle and Peter Randazzo (ah, those were the days). At the entrance were three clippings of reviews of the previous week’s performances. 
One was from The Toronto Star, one from The Globe and Mail and the other was from The Varsity, with my byline on it. I stopped dead in my tracks. This was the first time I was receiving public validation for my efforts as an aspiring arts critic, which showed me I truly was on the right career path and that the community I was writing about cared about what I had to say. It was because of a publicist who was willing to give me my due despite my tender years. His name is Stephen Johnson, and he has my everlasting gratitude.