Category Archives: Ian MacKenzie-Thurley

Why Always Europe?

It was always Europe. London as the first stop, and then on to the continent. That’s how it was done.

When I grew up, Britain was the promised land with regard to international travel, and to do it right, Francs, Lira and Deutschmarks had to be involved somewhere, too. So was the great Australian dream of going abroad in my youth.

America wasn’t really on the radar then. Of course there was the sophistication of New York and the glamour of L.A. But it really wasn’t a place that anyone actually went to; well not before you had visited Europe of course. I did have a school friend go to Disneyland in seventh grade, but I never did speak to him again. (Okay, that’s not true, the speaking bit, but he did go to Disney, and he’s actually been to Hamilton now, too.)

Europe is a place of great history, culture, language and cuisine. Everything that was anything and anyone of significance supposedly came from Europe.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love England and really enjoyed our time living there. And Europe is an incredible place. I’ve seen a fair bit of it and yet not nearly enough. But it only took me one visit to America to realize that we’d been thinking about it the wrong way.

Incidentally, my first trip to America was a complete accident, as I too had intended to take a year off and explore Europe.

I feel that Americans, and indeed the world at large, sometimes forget that America is a country of incredibly diverse culture, history, language, food, art and music.

If you visit Seattle you will encounter a world very different from that of New Orleans and that the back woods of Missouri are nowhere near the experience of downtown Boston. The accents you hear, the phrases used and the approach to life are vastly different at all points of the compass. The way you order a soda/pop/coke is different in nearly every state, but you do get the advantage of a single currency to do it with. How is that any different to Europe?

The bucket list “check offs” that include seeing the Grand Canyon or standing atop the Empire State Building surely measure up to that of taking in the hills of Tuscany or scaling the Eiffel Tower, right?  Maybe it’s different when it’s visiting parts your own county? I’ve stood at the Brandenburg Gates, but I regret that I have still not seen Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia’s Red Centre.

There is still plenty of the world that I want to see. But high on the list is Mount Rushmore, Miami Beach and that famed trip down Route 66 all the way to Goodyear, Arizona, to take in Reds Spring Training. There are 50 incredible states to see here (though you do a pretty good job of hiding one with an ocean and another with all of Canada), and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to seeing every single one of them.

Now which way to Versailles?

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A Question of Sport

I’m a huge Reds fan. Yes, still. It’s been fifteen years now. I saw my first game at old Riverfront Stadium. Reds vs Brewers, in the ‘green seats’ on the third base line, over the visiting bullpen. I’d had a lifelong love of the game of cricket, so I was no stranger to bat and ball, but baseball was something new for me. Sure, I’d seen it on TV over the years. I could have probably hummed a couple of bars of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” if pressed, but it wasn’t something I had seen up close or known much about.

When it comes to cricket and baseball, I’ve found it best to describe it like this: Cricket is a very complicated looking game, which is actually quite simple. Where baseball is a very simple looking game, which is actually quite complicated. But for me, the love of baseball came quickly and easily. Once I had a Reds cap on and a dog and beer in each hand, I was all set. I quickly learned of Rose, Bench and the Big Red Machine, that it was pronounced Say-bo not Sar-bo, and that next year was going to be a winning season. I was now a Reds fan.

NFL Football, hmm, not so much. That is where it gets complicated. In Australia, we have football – lots of football – and lots of different forms of football, most of which we just call ‘footy.’ There is Australian Rules (Aussie Rules or AFL), which is the eighteen man per side game with the short shorts, cut off shirts and the leaping into the sky to grab a ball out of the air that has been kicked fifty feet. There’s Rugby Union (Rugby), which is fifteen men per side, lateral passing and lots of jumping on people, including your own teammates. There is also Rugby League, cousin to the Rugby Union, which has thirteen men per side and also lateral passing, but a little less complex. And, of course, there is actual European football, which is best known to us all as Soccer.

So by adding American Football to the mix – or Gridiron as it is known in Australia and the UK – my head starts to spin. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate the finer points of the game and the fact it was an Australian on punting duties during Ohio State’s recent national championship. But I get somewhat perplexed by the fact that it takes 27 hours to play the game, that there are 428 guys on each team, and that you build an entire stadium to be used only twelve times a year.

But I do love the tailgating. One of the great inventions of the Twentieth Century! My only disappointment is that it’s mainly reserved for football season and not baseball. The camaraderie. The corn-hole. The beer. With tailgating it would seem you have more chance of finding happiness in the parking lot at a Bengals game than you would in the stadium.

The Cincinnati area does have cricket teams, a Rugby club and also a pioneering USAFL club in the Cincinnati Dockers Aussie Rules team. So, if you want to see a sport that needs at least two countries playing to win a ‘world championship,’ drop me a line, and I’ll send you their direction.

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It’s the Little Things

HEY! Hamilton Columnist

It’s always the little things in life, the small stuff that will catch you out. Just when you think you have a handle on things, it’s the tiny details that always seem to trip you up. And so it is with the English language, or as I like call it here, “American.”

Whether it’s trying to figure out the difference between ‘color’ and ‘colour’ or if you should refer to an aluminum can or an aluminium one, you always have to be thinking ahead. The toughest one of late has been the transition from centre to center and from theatre to theater, and yes, I still had to give that some thought as I wrote it.

The first time I went to Germany, I went prepared – language lessons, research, reading, asking questions. I was ready for a different culture, different words and a different sensibility. The first time I came to America, I wasn’t so focused. I thought I knew it all. I had grown up watching American TV shows from I Love Lucy through to The Sopranos. Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 played on Australian radios every Sunday night. I’d had my tenth birthday at McDonald’s, and I’d worn Levis all through my teens. I knew America. Bring it on.

Yeah, it was a theory. Ignorance is bliss, as may be arrogance, for neither of them did me any good. The five minutes I spent in an elaborate game of charades after asking for a serviette (napkin) at Bob Evans should have given me a clue. But no.

I used to watch old cowboy films and was always perplexed why anyone would eat biscuits and gravy for breakfast. It just seemed really odd, but they were cowboys, so the ropin’ and shootin’ was going to make up for it. You see where I grew up, a biscuit was something more like an Oreo or Graham Cracker. With gravy? No, not so nice.

And there was Richie Cunningham on Happy Days tucking into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Ewww! For what we called jelly, you call Jello. A Jif and Jello sandwich? Enjoy that thought. Oh, speaking of Jif, Jif was a bathroom cleaner; that sure made for an interesting conversation at Kroger the first time.

My local grocery store growing up was called Coles, the department store named Myer. I had arrived on the other side of the planet, and suddenly my world was upside down!

You say ban-nah-nah. I say bah-nar-nar.

I realized (and please note the ‘z’ folks) that after a little time, that while I may not be in Kansas anymore, I was certainly not in Oz. The America that I thought I knew, I really knew nothing about at all. I needed to be schooled. Not just in language but in weight, dates and temperature.

It’s taken a while and I’m still learning. The ‘zed’ in the spelling of my name is now a ‘zee.’ Writing dates backwards, month/day instead of day/month, still does my head in, and I am pretty sure it will take me as long as everyone else to learn my Social Security Number – ten years.

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Ian MacKenzie-Thurley is the new Executive Director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Previously he has worked in artistic, programming and administrative roles that include productions at the Sydney Opera House, the 2012 London Olympics Cultural Olympiad and also as a producing Artistic Director.


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Not ‘HEY! Hamilton!’, but ‘Why Hamilton?’

HEY! Hamilton! Columnist

The late summer of 2000 saw me take in Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, London and Hamilton, Ohio.

It’s not what I planned. Seriously. Who ever heard of Hamilton, Ohio? If it weren’t for a cheesy ’70s sitcom, I barely would’ve known of Cincinnati, let alone anything to its north.

It’s at this point that I should probably be waxing lyrical about how I was instantly spellbound by the sights and sounds of Hamilton, how it’s Rockwellian charm had me transfixed as I strolled down High Street, drinking in the nostalgia of the middle America I had grown up to know only by television and movies.

But I wasn’t, so I won’t.

Some back story: I met a girl from the Midwest. We married and moved to Far Away. And when we were done there, we moved to another Far Away. But each chance we got, we returned, usually in the summer and just for weeks at a time.

The changes in Hamilton were small and they were subtle. To be honest, I probably missed most of them, if I was paying any attention at all. It’s not like I was planning to live here, right? Then in 2013, we came for an extended vacation, on our way to yet another, new Far Away.

I still wasn’t paying attention, but I did notice the changes. It was hard not to.

I get that it’s difficult not to sound like a complete schmuck with the phrase “I could live pretty much anywhere on the planet,” but it’s the quickest way to the point. And the draw of a wonderful extended family will only get you so far when looking to settle down and raise your child.

We came for family, but stayed for Hamilton. This city, this community with a new energy and attitude, whether stand-alone or in combination, had a profound affect on us.

I have been extremely fortunate to be involved in some incredible artistic endeavors during my career. But what I’ve never been a part of before is what is going on here in Hamilton, right now: Here is a city rebuilding itself, reinventing its purpose and driving itself forward in positive way, with an energized, engaged and enthusiastic community leading the way.

Something very special is going on in this city and we’re just getting started. The past is not ignored, but not dwelt upon either. We recognize the successes of Hamilton’s history, but more importantly we are now building towards the successes of the future.

An exclamation point on a map may garner you some attention nationally, I get that. But a city that develops well beyond that will certainly hold the attention of the most important people, those who live here, and I’m certainly glad I’m one of them.

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Ian MacKenzie-Thurley is the new Executive Director of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Previously he has worked in artistic, programming and administrative roles that include productions at the Sydney Opera House, the 2012 London Olympics Cultural Olympiad and also as a producing Artistic Director.