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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Sunday Feature, April 17, 2011

by David King

On April 9, the staff and alumni of HOUR Magazine reunited at Mainline
Theatre for a toast to the magazine. Closing its pages after two decades,
the writing went on the wall: HOUR became as thinned out over the last year as its contributing staff. A former theatre critic for HOUR (just before Gaëtan Charlebois, in fact), it's been a nostalgic week for me, particularly reading the massive outpouring of anecdotes and memories from staffers on Facebook, many of whom kicked off their journalism careers in the alt weekly.   

Kevin Laforest is the new Editor-In-Chief of HOUR Community, HOUR's print and online replacement. After several rumours circulated that HOUR would simply become a supplement within the pages of its parent VOIR, Laforest puts that to rest.

"That's a false rumour," says Laforest. "Everything will be the same as before, and in fact  we're aiming at a higher distribution.  Everything in print will be going up on the web site as well, along with extra web content."

The Hour diaspora and CharPo:
Gaëtan Charlebois, ex-theatre critic
The first issue of HOUR Community launched this week at the usual 300 distribution points, with plans for other door-to-door distribution and the support of street vendors. In a press release announcing the new magazine, VOIR Executive President Michel Fortin commented, “Hour Community is a paper intending to serve the anglophone communities, but really it speaks to all Montrealers interested in the different cultures that coexist in Montreal.... This is a logical development for a cultural weekly that’s in step with the evolution of Montreal, a renewal that will provide a real platform with quality editorial content for a wide range of communities. Alongside the featured cultural events, artists as well as opinion leaders, merchants, restaurateurs and other members of every community can collaborate and publish their point of view."

The Hour Diaspora and CharPo:
Richard Burnette, ex-columnist
"Same as before," as Laforest notes. Or is it? With the announcement of only the pop culture, op ed column Bloke Nation by CJAD's Anne-Lagacé Dowson and editorial content written by anyone, the words "quality editorial content" Fortin mentions is like a dangling participle in a sea of words.

Theatre and spoken word, as language-based forms of performing arts, have already become an endangered species over the last decade. Having watched TV and daily news sections kill theatre coverage in favour of general arts sections more interested in Lindsay Lohan's house arrest ankle bracelet, the English-language theatre community may be taking a bigger hit right now than it realizes. Not so, says Laforest, although there's no guarantee HOUR Community will be able to cover as many of our productions as HOUR.

"It's still a work in progress," says Laforest, "and for sure we're always going to continue covering Fringe, FTA, festivals etc, maybe not each of the plays by the 60 or so companies you mention, but as much as possible, and we'll be covering new plays that are out there, too".

Laforest is unable to tell me how much our theatre companies will be affected by HOUR sponsorship, which to date has included advertising sponsorship and ticket giveaways.  "We will still be doing contests," he says, pointing me to the team at sales and marketing for that answer.

Already on the lookout for freelancers in the arts, Laforest mentions this week's paper will remain as thin as previous, with growth planned in the very near future. Launching a new and improved HOUR Community website, Laforest had a look at the Charlebois Post, and was impressed by the site's content and success as an example of a magazine that blends the perspectives of artists and journalists.

"In a few weeks, I can say it's all going to be laid out and even clearer, so I'm really happy to speak with you more on this subject again as things progress," says Laforest.

How well HOUR Community will do in a world where print media requires 50% advertising to survive will remain as much a question as how much content our hard-hit Montreal English-language theatre (MELT) scene will receive. It won't be the same as before, acknowledges Laforest, while taking note of the need and the will of our theatre community. Now, more than ever before, is the time for us to be vocal in protecting our coverage of MELT as much as MELT itself, and rounding up not only editors of our English-language media outlets, but publishers as well, to let them know how much we need them as a language-based art form and endangered media species. 

Visit HOUR Community's new website to check out the new magazine online.

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