How Do You Support the Arts?

Every artist was first an amateur. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is art to you?

It could be a photograph, a movement piece, a song, a poem, a painting, a drawing, a garden, a novel.  The list can go on and on and we still would never see the end of it.  That’s the beauty of art.  It is all encompassing, surrounding us all, in all we say and do.  Art shows us our culture.  It reminds us of who we are.  It tells us what we are doing today, and who we can become tomorrow.  If we don’t have art, how can we as a people, know who we are?

In this age of grassroots movements, individuals and small groups are standing up for art and conveying it to the community at large.  There’s slam poetry groups, there’s art meetings, there’s community theatre, there’s writing clubs, and so much more.  They’re doing it because they are passionate about the medium, and their message, and they’re doing it so YOU will hear.

When then is it so difficult to find community members at these events?

Do you support the arts?  Sure, you may have voted for the individual or the political party who said they support the arts, but what about YOU?  Support is more than lip service.  Support is more than dropping some money at a fundraiser.  Support is going to the events, seeing what the artists have created, listening to their soul, and being a part of it all.  Maybe your life will be changed; maybe you’ll just have an an enjoyable evening with a friend or lover, or by yourself.

So where are you?

Where are you during local art gatherings?  Where are you during concerts held by local singer/songwriters?  Where are you during community theatre productions?  These people are telling your story.

We recently put on a show.  It ran for 3 nights and we didn’t break 70 people.  In a city of 50,000, we had less than 70 people show up.  Where were you?  Were you afraid about the content when you heard it was original?  Did you forget Shakespeare wrote original material for the Queen (and then King)? Did you miss news articles about the author being award-winning?  Did you miss the fact the author teaches drama to your children (and writes all their final performance pieces)?

What is holding you back from supporting your friends and neighbours as they pursue their passion?

This town is full of praise for the athletes who come from here, and rightfully so!  They have done great work and deserve our applause and our cheers.

So do our artists.  Artists invest just as much time and energy as our athletes; they sacrifice to create, they go without, they constantly strive for greatness.  And they achieve greatness.

Our artists work alongside other groups and charities, to use their talents to help with fundraisers, with awareness campaigns, with community development.  They are quickly forgotten in their own development.

Why is that?  Can anyone tell me?  Airdrie should have its own culture.  We have our own athletes making a name for themselves and Airdrie in the world.  Did you know our artists can do that as well? But we need the support of Airdronians to get there.

We are not just Calgary’s bedroom community.  We are our own community, with our own identity, and our artists are fighting against the stream to create a lasting memory.  Won’t you help them?

Support the arts, not just in words, not just in payments, but in deeds.  In attendance, in your time, in your life.

I close with a message from an audience member who came to see our show Saturday night:

I attended last night’s performance and I thought this play was great. The performers were wonderful. Airdrie you are fortunate to have such talented artists in your city. It is such a shame you do not support them. I live in Taber and we have the Taber Players here that perform twice per year. In a town of only 8000 people this group has a great following. Airdrie get out and support this talented group of play writers and actors. Volunteer some time and see what you have been missing!!!!!

 

 

 

To My Friend

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

-Shakespeare

This week, my best friend and I are travelling down different roads that are remarkably similar.  Her due date for her first gaffer is the end of the week.  My show – the first show being performed on a non-festival basis goes up on Friday.

After initial similarities, our lives have gone down separate paths.  She’s married, a homeowner, and very, very knocked up.  I’m unmarried, a renter, and an avowed non-breeder.  But as I take the time to think back over the 9 months, and marvel at the way our different journeys are ending on the same weekend, I see the cosmic humour.

Drowning Ophelia was being written while Friend’s gaffer was early in the gestational stage.  As it grew in her womb, so too grew Drowning Ophelia.  Its characters came alive, life breathed into them by the actors.

As this new child is being brought into the world, so too is Drowning Ophelia.  It will take its first breaths on Friday, its mother waiting with bated breath to see how it is received.

I will never have children, and I will never have my innards make room for a weird space invader-type thing for 9 months and eventually push something the size of a watermelon through a very small hole, but I will create life.  I will create legacy.

And that dear Friend, is just another of our similarities.

Saying Goodbye to Theatre Arts

Encouraging innovation in the arts – Nose Creek Players

Last night I heard Mount Royal University canceled (among other programs) Theatre Arts.  This Alberta budget has not been kind to many people, and post-secondary institutions have definitely felt the pinch.  I think this move – which can’t be called a knee-jerk reaction at this stage is frightening.  Alberta is not known for its love of theatre arts.  Alberta’s love relationships don’t move far beyond oil and gas, which we all know is super sustainable. . . right? I think this step of canceling a theatre arts program goes to show Alberta does not see graduates of this program as being a functional member of Alberta society with anything to give back to them.  I mean to say, they’re not going to put money in a program unless it eventually gives a financial return to Alberta.

What absolute twaddle.  As a graduate with a BA in Drama, I know all too well it’s difficult to make money in my respective field. It’s only a stroke of luck that I am getting paid (albeit minimally) for a kids workshop.  But my influence does not stop there.  I am president and associate artistic director of a community theatre group.  Our scope extends beyond performing several times as year.  We are active stakeholders in our community, assisting the growth of arts, participating in many different fundraisers, and being a mini community for our members.  All that is important and it is all bred from arts education.  Sure, not everyone in our community theatre group has arts training, but 50% of our leadership does, and that’s how we are constantly expanding.

Theatre Arts is more than going on stage, or in front of a camera and being another person.  It is learning truth – your own personal truth.  It is being encouraged to play, to try different things/characters, even though in the long run, you might “fail”.  Arts is important for innovation, whether it is innovation in energy, oil/gas, business, whatever.  Theatre arts has long told a story.  Cycle plays used to tell our history.  Theatre arts can be explained as a society’s conscience.  All perceived hyperbole aside, once society’s conscience is taken away, then all manner of filth can enter in.

Government of Alberta: financial return is nothing if society has dwindled to the lowest common denominator.

Breakthrough

Breakthru, these barriers of pain; Breakthru, yeah, to the sunshine from the rain. – Queen

I reached a breakthrough last night.  But first, some background:

I am proud to be the president and associate artistic director of a grassroots community theatre group in Alberta.  This theatre group has dedicated itself to performing original works, usually by its members.  I am also a playwright.  In addition to several sketches (favourites being Superman Rides the Bus, and #AmWriting), I’ve written some one-acts (Empty Spaces, Drowning Ophelia), and some full length plays (The Long Grass, The Courtship of Sarah Chandler).  I’ve also written a 12-episode web series, but that might only ever exist in script form.  This April, Drowning Ophelia will be performed.

Here’s why it’s so special:

I wrote this during a really hard time in my life.  Probably my hardest.  I was living with an alcoholic.  Not only was he an alcoholic, but he had untreated PTSD from a traumatic childhood.  At one time, I considered him my best friend.  It was hard to see him spiral down to what he had become and be powerless to stop it, or help him.  You see, he didn’t want help.  I have my theories as to why, but that’s neither here nor there.  When he drank, he was . . . terrifying.  He would mumble to invisible people, yell at those people and hit himself.  I would be cowering under my covers, my cat right beside me, afraid to fall asleep until he had calmed down.  I never thought he would bring me physical harm, but at 3:00 in the morning with the sounds of him yelling and hitting himself, logical thought flies out the window.  There were times I was afraid to look in the bathtub for fear of what I would find.  I wanted to leave, but the lease was in my name.  I could only go to another building owned by the same management company, and affordable-to-me places were few and far between.  I was also afraid that if I left, he would get even worse, since he would have no place to go, and perhaps die.  I wasn’t really telling my friends anything that was going on.  Sure, I’d mention he got drunk again, but I didn’t tell them how much it affected me.  Maybe they knew, maybe I’m excellent at dissembling.  I had all these feelings, emotions, and fears running through my head with no output.

So I wrote.  And from that, came Drowning Ophelia.  I have mentioned getting closer to the works of Shakespeare, and what that means to me as a writer.  Hamlet has always been a favourite of mine.  I thought of poor Ophelia, and how she’s portrayed.  She goes insane, and she kills herself.  But what made her go insane?  Who made her go insane?  I believe Hamlet did.  Here was a man who told her repeatedly he loved her, but when he faked his own insanity to catch a murderer, his first victim was Ophelia.  Hamlet killed Ophelia.  His emotional and mental abuse and manipulation took her over the edge. I used that story as the backbone (and eventual bookends) to my play.  In between sits a café.  Men and women are there, in various stages of the cycle of domestic abuse.  I play Sophie/Ophelia.

Sophie and Ophelia’s character calls for depth, and emotional vulnerability.  I am guilty of Chandlerizing emotion, or emotional roughhousing.  That is to say, I wouldn’t let myself too far down into the pit.  I still needed to be in control.  But that wasn’t fair.  Not to the characters I wrote, not to the other actors in this play who need to do the exact same thing.  So last night in rehearsal, I told them not to let me get away with it.  I told me not to let me get away with it.

And I felt her.  Sophie.  I felt her pain, her anger.  After all, her pain and her anger is my pain, my anger.  This is more than just a play for me.  This is an emotional release of the past year and a half.  This is awareness for those of us who find it easier to tell people they need to leave a damaging relationship than actually leave.

I am proud of this play. I’m proud of what it’s becoming.  I have dreams its message will be far-reaching, but for now, there will be three performances.  If you’re in the Alberta area, I hope you take a trip out to see this.  Theatre should provoke.  It should tell a story.  It should create change, and until we can say there is no man, woman, or child afraid of their partner/spouse/parent, we need to change.

Drowning Ophelia Poster

How to Be an Actor: the Rules and Guidelines of Theatre

“There is a CODE OF CONDUCT by which any Actor worth his or her union membership should abide.  Most of these you know – they’re just common sense.  So when you are lucky enough to work, follow these simple rules.” – Actors Equity

Contrary to what people might think, the road to acting is long, arduous, and necessitates thick skin.  Most of us get our start in community theatre, school, or even church.  Some of us start really young – with supporting parents, and a clear indication you were made to perform.  Some of us start later, as a hobby, then are hooked.  All of us share commonalities.  We live for the stage/camera.  I’m firmly rooted in community theatre these days, and I’m having a helluva time with it.  I am enjoying the challenges, implanting myself in the community, and the wonderful group of people who surround me. I write, act, direct and produce.  That’s the nature of the beast with community theatre; one has to be prepared to wear many hats.  I love that we have actors who are also visual artists.  I love that we have actors who are award-winning dancers.  I love that we have people in our group that absolutely hate acting and are happy calling the show (stage manager), and providing props.  I also love when it’s the actors who are willing to take a step from the limelight and help out backstage.

If you can’t help out backstage, you have no business being on stage.  

If your ego is too big, and you think the only space to hold it is a stage, you will not find yourselves on my stage.  Backstage crew are the most important people in a performance. Sure, you can memorize the lines and cry on cue, but if we have no lighting guys, no one will see you.

10 to 1, it's an eye drop.

 

 

 

 

 

If we have no costume mistress, the audience is going to wonder why you’re a knight in Arthur’s court wearing a Canadian Tuxedo.

And here we have Matt Damon, wearing our traditional garb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The point I’m trying to make is this: Actors, you are not the shiz.  Or the nit.  You are part of a team of people working hard to make the director’s vision come to light.

To that end:

  1. Some directors (myself included) welcome suggestions, especially at the community theatre level.  If they don’t, too bad.  It’s their prerogative.  You are merely the body/voice chosen to act out his vision.
  2. Actors never, never, ever give directions to other actors.  If you are scene partners, you may say, “hey, what if we tried this?”  Never, never, ever say, “you need to do this.”  That is not your role; you are not the director.
  3. Actors never, never ever do something you’re uncomfortable with.  That being said, it is YOUR responsibility to read the entire script to check for things which may make you uncomfortable before you accept the role.  No director worth his salt will fault you for turning down a role due to your own ethical code, but he will be exceedingly angry if you pull diva crap like that after you’ve accepted; because if you’ve accepted, it means you’ve accepted your character – and all his/her nitty-gritty parts.
  4. Tech week is one of the the most important weeks in the run of a show.  Attendance is mandatory.  Man-da-tory.  There may be extenuating circumstances and a director may be empathetic, but another rehearsal, audition, or a casting call for Bachelor:Canada is unacceptable.
  5. Actors, do not come to a rehearsal and say, “which show are we doing?”  We get it, you like acting.  We do too!  But an actor is first and foremost a professional and not having your poop in a group will not endear you to anyone.  Also, it makes you sound like a pretentious douche.
  6. When a directors says you need to be off-book, be off-book.  That does not mean you can’t call lines.  It just means to get the damn book away from you.  It limits your acting and the director wants to begin to shape you in his vision.
  7. Do not give another actor a line.  A dramatic pause is not necessarily someone forgetting a line.  If he/she forgets a line, he/she will stay in character, and call line, which will be given to him by a pre-designated individual (most commonly the stage manager).
  8. If you are fortunate to act with a huge organization, if you have a question for the director, it goes through the Stage Manager.  She is your point of contact.  She reports to the director, and he reports to producers.
  9. When a director gives notes, write them down.  This includes blocking.  Nothing is more frustrating for a director than an actor not adapting the changes previously given.  It is rude, unprofessional and absolutely infuriating.
  10. Finally, you are not the only person sacrificing your time, your social life, and your sanity to do a show.  Do not act like you are.

None of this is meant to discourage or acuse.  If you want to be part of the wonderful world of theatre, you need to know these things.  One wrong move can ruin your career.  Community theatre is meant to be and is fun.  You surround yourself with like-minded individuals and at the end of it, people clap for you!  It’s great!  But acting is also very vulnerable, and if you can’t respect the social mores surrounding theatre, you don’t deserve the trust actors give you.

Images taken from here and here.

Bull In the China Shop Acting

“Acting is not being emotional, but being able to express emotion.” – Robert Quillen

 

 

 

 

We’ve all heard the idiom “you’re like a bull in a  china shop”, meaning a person has no tact, etc.  I would like to postulate a new meaning, in regards to acting.

This of course, is a life lesson learned in large part because of my participation in the aforementioned Shakespeare class.

People, the theatre world is by and large the exact opposite of the film world.  With some exceptions, film is about the spectacle: 3D, surround sound, explosions.  Theatre is about the spoken word, the emotion, being there with the audience while you discover something new about your character.  It is because of that difference I was surprised, and admittedly angry when a director said in a group of people, referring to myself, “there are no roles for…heavy women.”  I let it go the first time (the man might have suffered from bull in a chinashop syndrome, no?), but when he repeated it a few weeks later, I had to cry foul.  You see, in theatre, unless someone’s line explicitly says, “hey [insert name here], you’re fat/skinny/black/white/hispanic/tall/short”, then the character representation is at the prerogative of the director/casting agent.

Theatre is not about the spectacle.  Unless we’re talking Wicked, Beauty and the Beast, Phantom – but they are on a completely different scale than, say, Mamet, or Shakespeare.

It all comes back to The Bard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understandably so, such a comment (and made twice!) does a couple things to a person. 

  1. They wish to prove the director wrong.
  2. Somewhere, deep inside, they can’t help but wonder, “what if he’s right?”

He’s not right.

For the longest time, I had been cast (and contented to be so) as supporting roles.  There’s really nothing wrong with it.  Supporting roles (or sidekicks) get some of the best lines, they get some of the best laughs.  But they very rarely get to show emotion aside from comedy.

And here’s where the bull enters the china shop.

For so long, I had convinced myself the sidekick, the supporting role was all I ever wanted; I had also convinced myself I was incapable of being anything else.  Incapable of feeling the grand emotions that accompanies a larger role.  Because if the sidekick breaks a piece of china, it’s funny.  The sidekick doesn’t know any better.  And quite frankly, our society has become so comfortable with “heavier people”, or “black people”, or “hispanic people” (and other stereotypes that haven’t been mentioned) in the supporting character role, seeing one of them as a bull in the china shop is comforting.  It’s status quo.  It’s safe.

Well screw that!

Shakespeare has taught me I can have all the emotion of a leading lady.  “For ere Demetrius ever look’d on Hermia’s eyne/He hail’d down oaths that he was only mine”. (Midsummer Night’s Dream Ii).  When I say those lines, I feel the hurt, the pain, the loss of Helena because the man who swore and swore he loved her pushed her aside for her best friend, her other pea in the pod.

How could I feel that if I were a bull in a china shop?

Let’s leave the china shop, fellow bulls!  There’s a large world out there, full of color, and range of emotion and we are all capable of experiencing it, and bringing others to the same experience!

The theatre is not about limiting emotions.  It is about drawing them out, making each and every person sitting in the rows feel them, and draw those same emotions from their own selves.  There is no shame in supporting characters, but shame on you if you, Directors, don’t let them out of the shop every once in a while to let them surprise you, and shame on you, Actors, if you don’t break out from the shop yourself. 

 

Images taken from here and here.

Shakespeare and the Art of Being a Coward

“Humor is the most engaging cowardice”
-Robert Frost
 

This week I began a 3 month journey into Shakespeare.  With Iam Coulter, former artistic director of the Shakespeare Company in Calgary, at the helm, we will learn how to sililoquize with the best of them, perform scenes that would make Laurence Olivier jealous, and quote sonnets like Cyrano de Bergerac.  As you can see, I’ve already begun making up words.

It is very exciting for me.  For as long as I remember, I’ve been drawn to The Bard; I believe I was 10 or younger when my Grandma gave me an old copy of Romeo & Juliet, and I began casting people in roles – whether they knew about it or not.  Since that time, I’ve decided I hate Romeo & Juliet, but my love for Shakespeare lived on.  I’ve studied Midsummer Nights Dream, Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear (twice), Merchant of Venice and Titus Andronicus.  Guys – if you think Shakespeare doesn’t have enough action, you’re not reading/watching the right plays.  In Titus Andronicus, a girl gets assaulted and her tongue cut out, a mother eats her own children in a pie, and I’m barely scratching the surface there.

I’ve studied them; I’ve interpreted them, and I’ve enjoyed them.  But that doesn’t mean I know them.

I never knew an “Oh” in Shakespeare was well-rounded, and deserving of big emotion; who knew when a character mentioned wringing their hands, their hands best be wringing?

I also never knew how vulnerable Shakespeare can make you feel.  My self-chosen monologue is from Midsummer Nights Dream, right after Helena has spoken to Hermia and Lysander and learned of their elopement.  Here’s the messy triangle:  Helena loves Demetrius who use to love her back, but now he loves Hermia, only Hermia loves Lysander and Lysander loves her back.

How many of us can relate?  I can do more than that.  I am Helena.  Four times over.  Will doing this monologue, digging deep into the words of Helena and Shakespeare teach me what I’m doing that causes me to run after these types of men like a beaten dog?  Or will it finally teach me it’s okay to be vulnerable instead of angry.

I'm pretty much the Chandler of any group I'm in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s where I’ve perfected the art of being a coward.  You want me to play an overweight bad-mouthed bingo player?  Sure, no problem.  You want me to play a character, who, because her life circumstances eerily echo my own, is vulnerable, betrayed, confused, beaten down and yet still in love, I’m going to crack a poop joke and ruin the mood.

I've defiled a bush like this three ways from Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anger is easy, comedy is easy, pain of any kind is hard – no pun intended.

But who knows?  Three months from now, perhaps aside from speaking with words like “for sooth”, I’ll make you all weep moments after opening my mouth.

 

Pictures taken from here and here
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