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.



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.

Cyfarwydd Consulting

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”  -Epictetus

Chelsea’s most recent post has inspired me.  Inspired me into action.  I fill my head full of thoughts and ideas, but I never have the actual discipline, or drive to do it. 

Here’s the thing:

I work 3 jobs.  Each different; I like. . . most of them.  One of them involves me having my own company.  Cyfarwydd Consulting.  Cyfarwydd (kuh-far-with) is the Welsh word for storyteller.  When I discovered I’d have to create my own business to do my drama workshop, I agonized over what name I would call it.  This is the melding of two worlds.  Sort of.  Welsh (and Celts) are renowned for their creativity.  I may only have 1/4 Welsh blood in me and that blood flowing through my veins explains why I’m the odd one in the family.  The creative one.  It gives me a sense of purpose.

My contract for this workshop is over in February.  I’ve enjoyed doing it – even through the crazy stressful times, and I hope the final performance shows what these kids (and myself) are capable of.  I’m hoping to be signed back on to do some more, but as it’s never wise to put all my eggs in one basket, I’ve got to start preparing myself for more. 

To that end, I’m participating in a Shakespeare class.  I’ve always loved  Shakespeare, and to be better able to understand it would be phenomenal.  Not to mention the fact it will give me more knowledge to offer people.  I have something up my sleeve already when it comes to the guy, but some things need to be held close to the chest.

I’m submitting a short to Ignite! Festival.  Even if I don’t get accepted, I’ve a) got a play to use/sell & b) I’ve never actually followed through on festival applications.  This time will be different.

I would like to start using this blog as a stepping stone to other things, for example marketing my work.  I’ve got Marked on Amazon, but I’m only aware of 2 people who have purchased it.  It’s $0.99 and another short.  Spread the word and click the link on the right of the page.

I will write plays for pay.  I’ve done it before (minus the pay stuff, but churches seem to think that because you go to their building and have the talent, you should give it for free). 

I’ve got a half-written novel sitting on my hard drive.  How about  I finish that up?  Last year I said summer 2011.  Things got  busy – I quit my job, became president/artistic director of Nose Creek Players, and now I work three jobs.  But what if I didn’t have to?  What if I could support myself enough by doing what I love, I don’t have to worry about working 3 jobs to make the payments.  To do that, I’ve got to get my company up and running.

I’ve got several steps to take – none of which I’ll mention right now, but keep an eye out, tell your friends, refer me to people/people to me. 

I should probably do all this by December 23rd, eh?

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