East Van Love Song

It’s 8am on Commercial Drive and I’m walking to the community centre when I realize halfway there that it’s Labour Day, and the pool will be closed. That’s fine. This becomes a morning walk instead. It’s uncharacteristically quiet, except for the hiss of the number 20 and some restaurant prep cooks blasting music so loud you can hear it from the street. I grew up on the Drive, and there’s no place in the world that feels as much like home. This was the neighborhood we landed when my family moved North from Rodney King-era East LA – away from the highways and riots and tucked into the quiet greenery of East 3rd Avenue.

I’m at the age now where if I close my eyes, I can tell you what things used to be as easily as I can tell you what they are now. I remember the little Vietnamese bakery where my friend and I used to buy 69 cent spring rolls, burning our fingers and tongues to eat them before they soaked through the paper bag they were delivered in – gone. I remember playing foosball at Joe’s Café with my friend and our dads, screaming ourselves hoarse and getting calluses on our palms from the cracked handles of the table – still there. I remember the exact moment, as a young teenager, that I walked past Café Roma and realized the men were looking at me in that way – still there, but different than I remember. And even now, the smell of chlorine, chocolate milk, and white chocolate raspberry scones are inextricably linked by years of afternoons at the pool for swimming lessons followed by a trip to Uprising Bakery. I am becoming a regular again at that same pool, swimming laps under the watchful eye of the tiger mural, unchanged from when I learned to swim two decades ago.

This is a community born from resistance. Early in the twentieth century, speculation failed here. The neighbourhoods instead filled with immigrants from Italy, Portugal, and later Vietnam, Latin America, and beyond. The sidewalks hum with banter in more languages than I can count. Next to posters of Fringe shows and big-name concert are pasted posters announcing protests, anti-oppression workshops, political actions. I remember the year that a Subway opened up (near Charles, if I remember correctly,) and I remember it shutting down, no competition for the real Italian subs available just across the street. But the chains are coming and staying now, each two-year-lifespan gastropub replaced by another one. The co-ops and subsidized housing that my classmates grew up in are threatened by the arrival of new and shiny condos. Gentrification. Inevitable – and yet to me, inconceivable in this scrappy corner of our increasingly homogenous city. I now live two blocks down from the house I grew up in, the one my family was renovicted from when I was a child. Sometimes I wonder if I am now part of the problem. But when I get a notice of a rent increase and my heart squeezes so tight time stops, when my roommate and I get our taxes back and fall to the floor laughing because we fall so far below the poverty line, I think no, not me. Then I look at the low-income housing across the street, and wonder if they’ve stopped laughing about it.

One night, as I lay in bed, I heard shouting in the street. First, the familiar intonations of a regular who walks the length of the Drive with his little dog, singing and speaking to himself. Second, the clicking of high heels and the cruel millennial bleat of a woman following him, mocking him, drunk and mean. Rage stiffened my body as I prepared to hit the streets and intervene, because some resistance comes with its fists up. And then: the man’s terrifying roar, then silence: the sound of heels clicking quietly away. This neighborhood knows how to defend itself.

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In the chilly morning air, I walk past the primary school where my mom helped our neighbor with 6 adopted and foster children walk to school, where my teacher first taught me to write my own books; I walk past the elementary school that collected giftcards and donations to help my family when our house burned down; I walk past the swimming pool where an instructor taught me to resist the urge to panic when I put my face underwater; I walk past a person sleeping on the street; I walk past a steel and glass storefront selling $80 throw pillows; I walk past an elderly woman in a track jacket going for a run; I walk past an old man smoking on the patio of the Italian coffee shop; I walk past a pile of wet abandoned clothes in the park; I walk past the spot where yesterday I ate tamales outside and listened to a man sing in Spanish, my heart quivering with blood memory; I walk past stores and homes that are, that were, and that will be.

This is what we’re fighting for. The unbelievable complexity of co-existence on this Coast Salish land that was never ours to begin with. Deeply imperfect, but essential all the same. With every force that seeks to make us fear the other and each other, to guard our resources, to get what’s ‘ours’, we resist. We fight for community centres and rent control, for our schools and shops. We fight oppression in all its forms. We are not all the same. We are not all fighting the same fight. But resistance lives in the met eyes of neighbors, in ‘good mornings’ and ‘do you need help?’ It lives in hot coffees for strangers and signed petitions, in your feet on the ground at protests and rallies, in solidarity. In the quiet streets of the Drive on Labour Day.

Spring Things

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I’ve just returned from an incredible week at The Banff Centre as part of the 2016 Playwrights Colony.  I was there with my collaborator Molly MacKinnon working on a new piece titled Never The Last, which premiers next month at the rEvolver Festival.  I was so grateful to meet some brilliant minds from across Canada, and to enjoy the facilities at Banff.  Molly and I worked round the clock to turn out two new drafts in one week – the result will be on stage just three weeks from now!

Another nice thing: I am in great company as one of six finalists for this year’s RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwrights Prize.  You can read more about the other amazing finalists here.

It feels like a really wonderful time to be a playwright in Canada – I’m filled with gratitude.  I also just literally got home from Banff, so I’m going to bed.  Goodnight, friends.

PGC Featured Playwright

The lovely folks at Playwrights Guild of Canada chose me as their Featured Playwright last month – I say lots of words about theatre, writing, diversity and community.  Thanks PGC!  You can read it here.

high tide

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On Monday night at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, I was honoured to received the Sydney Risk Prize for Outstanding Script by an Emerging Playwright for Selfie.  I also got to get up on stage with my very best friends in the world to accept the Jessie for Outstanding Musical – Small Theatre for Stationary: A Recession-Era Musical.

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Awards are weird and wonderful (and then weird again). In an industry where merit and success so rarely meet, it’s a bit odd to take one night a year to declare a winner.  But I think the real impulse is to celebrate and to come together – to recognize the hard work and to (try to) get all our beautiful, vibrant colleagues in one room to say, as Dawn Petten so beautifully put in her acceptance speech, that this is ‘our town’.

One of my favourite phrases is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.  I believe this, absolutely.  It’s the guiding principle of everything I do in the theatre.  When we are at our best, we all win.  And this experience has reminded me that I have been lifted by the people in this community – I am the beneficiary of programs and people who made room for me at the table.  Sometimes as artists we live in a culture of scarcity that can trick us into thinking we can’t afford to lift everyone up, when in fact the truth is that we can’t afford to leave anyone behind.  That night reminded me of the incredible generosity I’ve been shown in my short time in the professional world, and I intend to pass that kindness on to anyone I can.  Win or lose, feast or famine, it won’t always be this good – so when the tides rise and we cast our nets, the bounty will be so much greater for having everyone on board.

thought residency

I’m happy to be a contributor to the SpiderWebShow once again, this time as a thought resident for February 2015.  What is a thought resident?  According to Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley, “My desire is to offer a brief holiday from the mantle of your own thoughts and to give you the opportunity to unwind over a 30-second interlude with some of our country’s most interesting performance creators.  Each month, I invite an artist to join us in our thought-space. In turn, we invite you to listen to their thoughts. New thoughts are born online each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It is completely free and digitally intimate.”

Pretty neat eh?  It starts today, and will have three thoughts per week until it rolls over to another artist.  Tomorrow’s thought contains the word “nudity,” so if fall short in intellectual intrigue I can always fall back on sensationalism.

Thanks to Sarah and the SpiderWebShow team for inviting me to take part.

another round

My dear friend and collaborator Mishelle and I wrote a little holiday song last night.  Like the rest of the year, the holidays are as beautiful as they are sad, as joyful as they are hard.  Here’s to surviving it all and sticking it out for another round.

Self Portrait

I hate having my picture taken.  I can’t remember when I started hating it, but the impulse to cringe every time I see a lens is muscle memory now.  And in a sort of delicious circular irony, my self-loathing is evident on film and makes each picture worse than the last.  There’s a feedback loop that follows – feeling bad, looking bad.  And someone always makes the comment: “Aren’t actors supposed to love the camera?”

I think we all know now what young women (and people of all kinds, but I can only speak about what I know) are up against when it comes to self image.  Women are given a million things to be, and only allowed a tiny space to do it in.  And sometimes I feel like being an actor means jumping straight into the fire – until we add to and change the canon of Western theatre and drama, we’re often expected to embody the tropes that are part of this damaging system we grew up in.  The more I look for it, the more I see it – women in plays whose beauty (or lack thereof) is as crucial a demonstration of their character as their words and actions.  It strikes me that even in the medium that I love and trust, being beautiful is still an utterly essential thing to be.

And if you set yourself on the outside of that thing – for whatever reason – you wonder where your place is.   I think about every time I ignored someone who said I was smart because all I wanted to be was beautiful.  It’s hard to admit that, because beauty is political and frivolous and important all at the same time.  It’s everything and it’s nothing, and it’s tied to history and privilege and capitalism and a million things that are hard to understand all at once.  It’s also hard to talk about, because comparison is a weapon that is used to scare us all into silence.  When someone speaks their personal shame, I may swallow it along with them because in my eyes they’re closer to some unattainable standard – if she’s not beautiful, then what am I?

We live in a shallow culture that deplores vanity.  It’s this contradiction that makes me fascinated with the rise of the selfie.  Egotistical, perhaps, but also a celebration of one’s own (personally vetted) beauty?  Or is it the feedback loop again – seek approval to feel approved of?  I want to participate somehow, but it doesn’t work for me.  Every time – snap, cringe, delete.  The only selfies I’ve kept were a hilarious series of ‘exhaustion selfies’ I took this summer when I was working too hard and looked like hell.  The series culminated in a hospital selfie following a surgery resulting from a ridiculous (but minor) bike accident.  I don’t know why I took them.  I guess it’s because they were not beautiful at all, but they were the real thing.

I hate having my picture taken, but I love taking pictures.  I decided to challenge myself to take a self portrait (I suppose it’s a selfie if it’s on an iPhone and a ‘self portrait’ on a DSLR, no? That’s what I’ll go with).  I think, maybe with complete agency, I can do this – I set the lights, I pick the lens, I make my mirror face until I realize how dumb it really looks.  I will set up the shot and then set the timer and snap away at myself until I find my perfect face.  A beautiful face.

I only liked three photos, which were taken before I was ready.  They are a portrait of myself in a moment where I am not concerned if I am beautiful or not.  In these photos I see myself starting to slowly unclench, finger by finger, letting go of the bullshit I’ve held onto for so long.  I see myself not giving a fuck if I’ll ever be a leading lady or not.  I see myself existing just for myself.  And for once, I see myself as beautiful.

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