Where Are You Airdrie?

The creative arts are the measure and reflection of our civilization. They offer many children an opportunity to see life with a larger perspective…The moral values we treasure are reflected in the beauty and truth that is emotionally transmitted through the arts. The arts say something about us to future generations. – Ann P. Khan

Dear Airdrie,

Where are you?

You say you’re an arts town, a town that supports the arts, but where are you?  Where are you when professional artists fill the stage at Bert Church Theatre with their unique sound?  Where are you when Airdrie’s youth take the stage to show off their budding talent?  Where are you when local musicians bare their soul in haunting melodies and upbeat choruses?  Where are you when local artists proudly display their works of art?  Where are you when local playwrights present their original pieces?  Arts is an integral part of any community, but like anything, if a community doesn’t use it, or appreciate it, the community will lose it.  Arts have been in your community for years.

The arts are at AIRScares.  The arts are at Airdrie Zombie Cup.  The arts are at Dine for a Difference.  The arts are at Empty Bowls.  The arts are at Colour Me Red.  The Arts are at Relay for Life.  The arts are at Race for Kids.  The art are at the Mayor’s Run.  The arts were at the Alberta Summer Games. The arts shop local.  The arts eat local.  The arts support the community.  But where is the community for the arts?

Art is more than just what it can do for you.  Art is more than entertaining at an already established event.  Art is more than just donating a song, an album, a painting, some tickets.

This community needs to give back to the arts.  A community gives back with time.  Take the time to listen to the songs, look at the painting, the photograph, the carving.  Take the time to sit and be taken away by actors on the stage.  Take the time.

A community giving back is not always about what money can be spent.  Members of community arts groups love what they do, so it’s their money going in.  Did you know that?  If there’s a lack of sponsorship, events still happen; the cost is just dearer.  People who are in the arts believe in the arts, and will give to the arts their time, their resources, their everything.  It’s only when their everything doesn’t seem to be enough for a community who says they love the arts when people get discouraged and art becomes a trial.

Do you love the arts?  Or do you only like the arts when it can do something for you?


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bard

With pomp, with triumph, with revelling.

Even though we’re not 100% sure, April 23, is the day we tend to recognize as William Shakespeare’s birthday. And this one is a big one.  The big 4-5-0.  I can only hope 450 years after my birth my works will be half as popular as Will’s is.

As clichéd as an actor/playwright loving Shakespeare is, I do.  And I don’t care that it is clichéd, because it’s also genuine.  And it also didn’t happen overnight.  I wasn’t huge on him during my formative school years.  We’re not taught true Shakespeare when we’re in high school (and sometimes even in college), because there’s not a lot of people who can do justice to the Bard.  So through my high school career, I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and King Lear.  In college, I studied Othello.  I also studied, somewhat independently, but in a collegiate environment The Merchant of Venice, and Titus Andronicus.  There is still a lot of Shakespeare I haven’t read, but last year I made a goal to read it all (see Year of the Bard).  I haven’t gotten as far along in that list as I’d like, but I shall continue, and blog my discoveries.

How did I shift from Shakespeare just being some guy we learned about in school to someone I aspire after?  It’s hard to know exactly when it happened, but as I learned more about him, and how he wrote, and how we should (as actors) interpret sentences, grammar, etc., his brilliance shone through.  He’s affected me not only as an actor, but also as a writer.

Shakespeare as an Actor

Shakespeare didn’t have a lot of time between writing and acting.  There was no opportunity to “workshop” a play.  He wrote, they performed.  Sometimes within hours.  So how does one make sure all the nuances of the writer are communicated to the actor?   In the words of course.  We don’t have to dig deep to see what needs to be done directionally if we as actors really examine the words.  Don’t just act blankly, waiting for the director to mould you, but let the words form your character and the director work with that.  Not only is it easier on the director, but you can get a much richer and deeper performance.   I’ve said it before: acting is not just showing up and saying lines.  There’s work.  And it’s worth it.

Shakespeare as a Writer

My writing style has changed since learning about Shakespeare’s writing.  Punctuation means so much more to me.  I tell my kids in P.A.C.K (Performing Arts Classes for Kids) that when they get a script/monologue, to circle any and all punctuation.  The reason for this is two-fold.  I like using drama to teach other skills (for my younger kids, their reading comprehension always grows in the three month period).  I also want them to be aware of when a sentence ends, when something shifts mid-sentence, and when to be excited.  It’s easier for some people than others, and I invariably have some who just don’t know what to do when they see an exclamation mark.  I have my theories (and overuse/misuse is one of them), but I want my kids know what to do when they see a specific punctuation mark.  So writers who don’t have the opportunity to direct your work, how do you make sure your nuances are seen?  I believe a lot of it is in punctuation and sentence structure.  When I write, I don’t write like I would write an essay.  I write the way people talk, so it’s not stiff, so it’s lifelike, so it’s relatable.

Shakespeare as Human

Now I know this is going to sound hokey, but I allow myself to feel, to experience things more deeply, and Shakespeare is behind that.  He’s behind me becoming a better actor, and if I’m not afraid to feel all these emotions on stage in front of a million people (misnomer, more like 70 if I’m lucky), then I shouldn’t be afraid to feel these emotions in front of people I know and trust.

Shakespeare isn’t for everyone.  Someone may get the same results from reading a George R.R. Martin book.  That’s fine with me.  I certainly don’t mean to tell someone they’re not doing things write because they don’t like Shakespeare.  I will ask all who don’t like Shakespeare if it’s because they were forced to read in high school/college?  As we all know, it’s hard (but not impossible) to enjoy something forced on us in order to learn.   Shakespeare is more than a bunch of confusing lines, and words we don’t say anymore, he’s deeper, he’s fuller, and he’s wiser than we give him credit for.

To me, fair friend, you can never be old,

For as you were when first your eye I eye’d,

Such seems your beauty still.

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!!!!!




Year of the Bard: The Comedy of Errors

Until I know this sure uncertainty, I’ll entertain the offered fallacy – Shakespeare

The Comedy of Errors was next on my Year of the Bard read list, and despite it being the shortest of his works, I had a hard time sticking to it.  From a reader’s point of view, it is very difficult to keep separate in the mind Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, not to mention their respective twin slaves, both named Dromio.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this type of humour is not lost on me generally.  This is part of the reason I loved Frasier so much – they did this type of comedy quite well.  It just reiterated that sometimes plays are meant to be seen and not read.  I’m quite enjoying this journey through Shakespeare, but until this play, I was content to see it play out in my mind’s eye.  I couldn’t manage it with this short piece.

It’s an important reminder that we don’t get the full picture just from reading a play.  Plays are meant to be seen: the characters are meant to come alive in front of you – living breathing pieces of literature for you to journey with.  You shouldn’t make rash judgements based on scripts alone – for the script is a one-dimensional piece of the three-dimensional world.  So much more is added by the actors, the director, the set, the props, and even the audience.  Directors are wonderful beings who can see the three-dimensional world in the one-dimensional script, and who can guide and shape actors to what they believe the writer’s vision to be.  We like to think actors are great and talented, and the show wouldn’t be the same without them, and that is true in part.  But we must never forget they are being guided by the director, who has patience and foresight to shape what the audience eventually sees.  As a writer who often gets to not only direct my own work, but also act in it, I get special insight not everyone does.  I know exactly what I meant when I wrote what I did.  I know the nuances behind it.  Sometimes I leave nuances alone, for the actor to discover as they develop their character, but the nuance is always there, waiting to be discovered, or perhaps molded in a different way.  Acting is great, and wonderful and is a passion of mine, but if it weren’t for words, all  we’re doing is mime.  Never forget the importance of what words are being said.  If it was important enough for the writer to put in his/her play, it’s important it get conveyed to the audience.

Year of the Bard: Measure for Measure

Virtue is bold, and goodness never fearful. – Shakespeare

After quite a long dry spell, during which I was too busy/tired to read, I dove back into The Bard.  The play: Measure for Measure.  I had not heard a lot of this one in my school years, so had no expectations.  What follows is the very basic run down.

Claudio got Juliet (his fiancé) pregnant.  While usually not a big deal, Angelo decides that Claudio should be put to death, and so Claudio is imprisoned for most of this play.  There is a Duke, who is disguised as a friar so he can observe Angelo.  Isabella, Claudio’s sister and a nun-to-be hears of Claudio’s plight and beseeches Angelo on her brother’s behalf.  Angelo says he’ll free him, if Isabella has sex with him.  Isabella refuses, but also knows nobody would believe her if she accuses Angelo.  She seeks advice from Claudio, and he begs her to do as Angelo says.  She refuses.  Angelo had previously been engaged to Mariana, but when she loses her dowry in a storm, he breaks it off.  The two women conspire, and Isabella leads Angelo to believe she will give in to his demands, but at the last minute switches places with Mariana.  The act of consummation pretty much seals the deal on their engagement.  Angelo had told everyone he had beheaded Claudio, when in fact, and unbeknownst to him, he was given the head of a man, who shared physical attributes with Claudio, and had died naturally.  All is revealed.  The Duke, no longer under the disguise of Friar says Angelo should die.  Mariana pleads her case, enlisting Isabella (who at that time still though Claudio is dead).  Angelo is given a reprieve.  Claudio is released.  The Duke asks for Isabella’s hand, but she does not respond.

This play is in the same section as Shakespeare’s other comedies, but apart from some dialogue with Barnardine (a drunk prisoner), I didn’t find it all to be that funny.  Angelo says Juliet’s sin of having sex with Claudio is worse than Claudio having sex with Juliet.  And yet it’s Claudio who is led away to be killed.  Angelo is a hypocrite, and Claudio really is no better.  He begs and pleads that Isabella give in to Angelo, to renounce her vows and her immortal soul to pay penance for the very thing he’s begging Isabella to do. And Mariana, so in love with Angelo, is willing to look past his faults to marry him.  “O my dear lord, I crave no other, nor no better man.”  I am not convinced Angelo fully repented of his ways.   What kind of marriage would that be for the two of them?  How many modern marriages begin this way?  Okay, maybe not exactly this way.

And the Duke!  The Duke proposes marriage to Isabella, but there is no response.  How do you think she would respond?  Would she decline the proposal and take up the habit?  Or would she accept?  I believe she does not accept the Duke’s proposal (would the Duke allow that? Would he respect her choice?). She is a woman who has strength of her convictions.  I mean, good grief, she thought Angelo had gone through with her brother’s beheading and she still joined with Mariana in asking the Duke’s favour on behalf of Angelo.  So no, I don’t think she agreed to his proposal.  And I also think the Duke would respect that.  Maybe I’m being too optimistic.  Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I think whoever plays Isabella and the Duke needs to have those questions answered before they play out that scene.  Maybe Isabella is unsure.  Maybe she needs to have a real heart-to-heart with her mother superior.  Ambiguousness at the end of something is cool for me, as long as there are leanings of a conclusion.  Even though I might not see it, I know there are possibilities out there, and that’s enough for me.

Going back to the designation of comedy.  I can see some formulas that we see in other Shakespeare’s comedies which probably led it to be classified as such.  It’s certainly not a tragedy or a history, but I’m not convinced it should be in the same classification of comedy.  Since I’m still pretty early in the Year of the Bard journey, I’d like to classify it as “miscellaneous”.  There might be other plays out there which deserve the same classification.

Year of the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor

Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly. – Sir Francis Bacon

The Merry Wives of Windsor was not on any syllabi in any of my classes, whether in secondary school, or post-secondary.  It is one of the plays I’ve heard the least about.  It’s also the first Shakespeare play I’ve not really gotten into.

The “wives” are Mistress Page and Ford.  Both are pursued by John Falstaff.  Both want to be caught by him, and they conspire to make a fool of him.  Complications arise (as they usually do).  Everything ends up as they should, despite the scheming, and even Falstaff has a relatively happy ending as he’s invited to drink and be merry by his would-be conquests.

The characters didn’t enthrall me.  Not as Shylock had, or Helena, or Viola.  When I’m not invested in the characters, it is subsequently difficult to be invested in their pitfalls and triumphs.

What really struck me, again, was the strength of the female characters.  These women were shrewd, but not shrewish.  Nor were they perfect.  Mistress Page wished her daughter to marry a certain man.  Her husband wished his daughter to marry someone else.  Their daughter wanted to marry someone completely different.  The Pages schemed against each other to make sure they each got their way. (SPOILER: Young daughter wins.)   Both women had a good natured attitude about their trying to “one-up” Falstaff.

In Merry Wives, the women don’t get their way because their women and that’s just how it’s supposed to be, they get their way (that is, they are NOT successfully wooed and bedded by Falstaff) because a) they love their husbands and are faithful; and b) they outwitted the man.

I find in some modern stories in film, TV, and literature that the ending is not suited to the lead up.  There’s almost a new form of Deus ex Machina.  I noticed it especially in LOST.  Kate could do EVERYTHING.  “Oh, I can track.”  “Oh, I can shoot a gun”.  Whenever there was a problem and something needed to be done, guess who suddenly was able to help out.  I’m all for making sure women have a strong voice in all these mediums, but not to the detriment of good storytelling.  Don’t just retcon and say such and such a character has all these qualities because you need to fill a quota.  Create the strong character, and let her (or him) develop naturally.  I find that’s exactly what Shakespeare has done in this play.  None of these strengths were out of the blue, because he had already established these women as intelligent, loyal, and with a great sense of humour.

This play, while not especially enjoyable for me, just reiterated we still need to have more strong, well-rounded women and when we do have these characters, such as Stella Gibson in The Fall, or Sarah Linden in The Killing, the media should not ask “Why do you write these characters?”  These characters are written because such women exist in real life.

Year of the Bard: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

That man that hath a tongue, I say is not man, if with his tongue he cannot win a woman – William Shakespeare

Next on my list of Year of the Bard is The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  This is one I had heard very little about.  I’m pretty sure I know why it’s not readily read in schools.   It would be like watching Judd Apatow’s dirtiest film in grade school.

Seriously though, Judd, you should consider making this one.  It’s right up your alley.

I don’t know if I’ve laughed out loud so much reading Shakespeare than when I read this play (most of it).  It’s very slapstick – perhaps the most of all the plays I’ve read so far, but it’s also got great wordplay (most of it).   One of my favourite lines:

Tut, man, I mean thou’lt lose the flood and, in

losing the flood, lose they voyage, and, in losing

thy voyage, lose thy master, and, in losing thy

master, lose thy service, and, in losing thy

service, –Why dost though stop my mouth?

That’s just a little sample of what you’d expect from this play.

The subject matter however, gives people pause.  Many think this play is one of Shakespeare’s first, and it is in this play he plays around with different themes he’ll go on to use quite successfully, such as women cross dressing.

 The Sum-Up:

Valentine and Proteus, are the mentioned Gentlemen.  Proteus is a lover, Valentine is not.  Valentine travels abroad, leaving Proteus behind with Julia, who Proteus loves, but Julia is reluctant to return the emotion.  Proteus joins Valentine in Milan, but not before exchanging rings with Julia.  Lo and behold, Valentine has fallen in love with Silvia.  Thurio also loves Silvia, but he ain’t no thing.  Proteus takes one look at Silvia (who is kept under strict watch by her father) and falls in love with her, forgetting Julia.  Julia has not forgotten Proteus, and wants to meet up with him in Milan.  She dresses like a pageboy so as not to be accosted on the journey.  Proteus tells Silvia’s father that Valentine intends to break her out, leading Silvia’s father to banish Valentine.  Julia, dressed as the pageboy Sebastian, arrives in Milan and is soon employed by Proteus.  Silvia believes Valentine to be dead.  Julia has to give the ring she gave Proteus to Silvia.  Silvia doesn’t believe Valentine is dead, so she escapes.  She runs into outlaws, and is taken captive.  Proteus and Sebastian follow, and Silvia is rescued.  Valentine is the leader of the outlaws and is able to see Proteus try to convince Silvia of his love, but she will have none of it.  Proteus then insinuates that he’ll force himself on her, and that’s when Valentine intervenes.  Proteus suddenly feels terrible.  Valentine forgives him and offers Silvia to him.  Julia faints, which proves she’s a girl, because of course, boys don’t faint.  Enter Thurio, but Valentine threatens him, and Thurio runs away, renouncing his love for Silvia.  Valentine and Silva are married, as are Proteus and Julia.

You can guess the point where I became a little unimpressed.  Proteus reminded me a little of Romeo, easily swayed in the love department.  And knowing how Valentine felt about Silvia, ignored the bro code, and schemed to get his best friend banished so he could get the girl – even though the girl he mooned over

 He after honour hunts, I after love:

He leaves his friends to dignify them more,

I leave myself, my friends and all, for love.

Thou, Julia, thou hast metamorphosed me,

Made me neglect my studies, lose my time,

Ware with good counsel, set the world at nought;

Made wit with musing weak, heart sick with thought.

was waiting for him.

Then there’s the whole, “no, don’t rape her, here have her” moment between the men.  Judd, if you do end up filming this play, maybe rework this part.  I’m honestly surprised that the man who goes on to write women so well, would have this in his repertoire.  I wonder how it was received when it was first performed.  Women certainly weren’t as well respected as they generally are today, but with such a strong woman leading the country, I couldn’t image her sitting back and laughing during this part.  Especially a woman who defied everyone telling her to get married and pregnant to save the country.  (Although, I do wonder if part of her expected to live forever and was a little bit of a control freak).

It’s disappointing when a book, or a film, or a play that has you for ¾ of the story loses you in the last quarter, but that’s what happened with these two guys – gentlemen they ain’t!  I also think that we shouldn’t run from a play like this.  We can’t sweep this under the rug because we don’t like the subject matter and forget he wrote about this.  Why did he write this?  Was he testing the comedic water?  Did he crash and burn?  Did people genuinely enjoy this type of degrading humour?  Did he learn his lesson and is that why most of his women later portrayed in his comedies are intelligent and strong?

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