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#CdnCult Times

Some supremely cool folks (Praxis Theatre’s Michael Wheeler, the NAC’s Sarah Garton Stanley, and Neworld’s own Adrienne Wong) have started up a lovely little corner of the web called the SpiderWebShow.  As they describe it:  “A theatrical space where Canada, the Internet and performance minds intersect.”  Basically, they’re the coolest kids in school.  They kindly asked me to contribute an article for their webzine #CdnCult Times.  The week’s theme was Barriers, and I’ve written about the struggle to balance career and craft as an early-career artist.  I’ve been quite touched by how many people have shared the article – the hardships of being an artist can sometimes be really isolating, even when many of your friends are in the “biz”.  I’m glad to know so many others out there feel the same way.  You can read it HERE.

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Perfect Harmony

I talk about it often, but (to me) it’s never enough.  I love my colleagues, and there’s a super special place in my heart for the artists I do STATIONARY with.  And not only because they happen to be most of my closest friends.  One special thing we share is music – we are the orchestra and ensemble of STATIONARY and have spent a lot of time playing together.  However, this summer some of my favorite musical moments happened offstage.  So here are two videos – one of us making some sweet music on the BC Ferry on our way to the Gabriola Theatre Festival, and one of us rocking out at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival.  Thanks, amigos.

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Under Your Skin

Today for the first time I got soaked to the skin.

This morning I rode my bike to work, drinking in the sun and carefree in canvas sneakers, an airy skirt and a light sweater. I am scared of riding my bike. I clench my hands hard on the handles, eyes darting left to right, ears listening for angry drivers revving their engines behind my slowly turning feet. I looked out the box office window all day, walked about in the sun for a pathetic 10 minutes. Rode hard and fast after work to some important meeting for one of those important things that I seem to do all the time. The minute we adjourned the meeting the first specks of rain mottled the windshields of parked cars. Then the rain came harder, faster, making the bell on my handlebars sing. The moment I swung my leg over my bike a flash of lightning lit up the pavement. By the time I was on my way I was in the midst of one of those monsoons, those rebellious moments of weather where we are reminded we live in a rainforest.

I squinted and grumbled as I pedaled. I have been raised like a little porcelain egg, packaged and protected. Keep between 15 and 25 degrees celsius. Fragile. Keep away from water. But when you are cycling home in a rainstorm, you have no choice but to get wet. It soaked through my skirt first, splashing up onto my frozen thighs. Then my shoes went, first one, then the other, shoe then sock down to my soggy toes. My light grey sweater turned black and then plastered to my skin, just like my skirt. I felt almost naked. The rain hurt at first, like pins and needles. Soon my skin was numb and I felt warm all over, warm from within, somehow. More lightning. More thunder, just seconds apart from one another. I blazed through stop signs and flew down hills. My brakes barely work on a good day but on wet pavement they were simply an afterthought. I should have been smashed to pieces by a truck, skidded sideways on sharp turns, but I didn’t. I simply glided, uninterrupted through intersections and negotiated turns like I was one with the bike. I intentionally hit the puddles and leaped the curbs.

I would have screamed out loud to the cozy Kitsilano streets if I could take a breath that didn’t burn. I would have thrown my arms in the air if I could pry my frozen fingers from the handlebars. So I didn’t. I just splashed through the soggy streets with a smile stuck on my face, laughing at the people running from car to front door, dodging fat raindrops that bounced off the pavement. Today something happened that I’ve carefully prevented all my life because it happened to me. I got soaked to the skin. And I let it happen because when you do that, the rain can’t get you wet. It’s under your skin.

 

 recycled from a diary entry in 2010, cause sometimes you write it right the first time.  I also now have a bike with proper brakes, don’t worry.
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Goodbye, Walter

Christmas Walter

This is a picture of Walter’s first Christmas with my family (yes, that’s my 5-year-old handwriting at the bottom).  We got his picture taken at the SPCA where we had adopted him earlier that year, a bouncy, loud but beloved mystery mutt.  This Christmas turned out to be his last one with us, and today we said goodbye.  Walter lived an incredible 20 years.

Sometimes it’s really hard for people to understand what it means to lose a pet.  We live in a society where animals are treated as commodities, exploited and neglected.  But anyone who has loved an animal knows their heart, their humor, and their undeniable ability to shape your family.  Walter was there from the time I was a little girl, long before I knew I wanted to be an actor, before I met any of the people who are my friends today.  He saw my family through 3 homes, me through 4 schools.  He was there when we left our home suddenly in the middle of the night when our house caught fire.  He was there when I cried for days over my first breakup.  He’s the reason why our backyard fence is 8 feet tall (in his day, he could jump high enough to look over the fence and bark at the trash collectors).  He’s the last of our motley crew of pets that we got on purpose – my mom said it was love at first sight when she saw him in the shelter, our mystery mutt.  Even a DNA test last Christmas failed to solve the mystery of what possible dog heritage could make a dog with black, wiry hair a curly tail, and those crooked ears.  Proud of our newest family member, we took him to get his photo taken with Santa.  Tonight, these photos sit on an empty bed.

I find comfort in the symmetry of celebration and sadness.  There aren’t always ways of making sense of how time passes, things come and go in our lives.  The life I had when Walter came into my family is so different from the life I have now.  So much joy, so much sadness passed since then.  Watching my mom care tirelessly for him in his old age.  Remembering his too-loud bark, his mysterious tail, remembering his other four-legged friends who left us first.  It hurts in all the beauty of remembering days gone by, of love that lasts.  What do you say when it’s time to part with one who gave you years of love, who was a part of almost two decades of your life?

Thank you, thank you.

I love you, I love you.

Goodbye.

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The Quiet Place

People say a lot of things about life in “show business”.  There’s the romantic, vaudeville-throwback imagery; the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd.  There’s the coked-up Hollywood version, all flashbulbs and magazine covers.  Then there’s the self-aware, self-deprecating cracks: “I’m a classically trained server.”  Each contains a grain of truth but nothing close to the vivid, awful, invigorating reality.  In the last few weeks I’ve been really wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.

The show opens tonight.  In terms of theatrical gestations, it’s been a short one.  We wrote the seed of this show 1 year and 2 months ago.  We wrote the script and music over the last 6 months.  We rehearsed over the last 6 weeks.  We teched just 48 hours ago.  And it will be all over in 10 days.  But in a grander sense, I don’t think any performance is ever just the sum of those little increments of time. Each aspect represents the grand total of a life in the theatre, years of training, years of living and breathing and creating.

The show has been the center of my personal little universe.  As the playwright, I spent weeks pondering, writing, stopping and starting (for much of it with one broken hand) and stressing.  As an actor I spent time decoding what I wrote and lifting it into playable actions.  As producer it filled my inbox and voicemail daily.  As publicist it’s all I’ve talked about.  I rang up my credit card and phone bill, didn’t sleep or eat much.  My boyfriend and my roommate are both in the show.  My best friends are the composer and director.  There was no escape from it.  We are young, own no property, are still the children of our families instead of having children of our own.  We can afford to be single-minded and dedicated wholly to our art. We throw ourselves in all the way because nothing else seems quite as important.

And then sometimes you step outside, feel the sun on your face and the pavement under your shoes and come to the phenomenal realization that something so consuming, so special and with so strong a pull that it can turn your whole world around has absolutely no effect on the people you see walking next to you on the sidewalk.  And that, not to put too fine a point on it, is fucked up.  I haven’t been able to eat a full meal or sleep through the night for weeks, but here are people riding bikes, eating brunch with their kids, driving cars.  Walking around.  Breathing.  Umm, you guys?  Did you know my show opens tonight?

That is the ecstasy and pain of passion.  That something can be everything and nothing all at once.  And my guess is anyone who has found their way to these words here ‘gets it’.  You get that the passion of creation is worth any amount of nausea and insomnia.  That the all-consuming drive to dedicate oneself wholly to a show is essential to fulfilling its infinite (and yet completely intangible) potential.  And you can probably understand why after months of hard work, knowing that some of the most influential people in our community and the media will be watching the fruits of our labors unfold on stage tonight, I (and I think all of us involved in the show) are feeling a little out of our minds right now.  I feel grateful to have a passion that can leave room for little else, but at the same time it all feels insurmountable, too big to handle.

This is just the beginning.  And if I’m going to survive this stage of my life in the theatre, I need to find the quiet place.  Somewhere where I’m free of the anxiety and perfectionism, the high stakes and the squeezy feeling in my chest.  I think I’ve found it.  It feels like sitting in the house before the audience comes in.  It feels like a comfortable silence with the person who knows you best.  Like early mornings when the world is quiet.  It’s a place that remembers that the center of your universe simply spins you around within the greater rush of time and life – that without sunlight and pavement and friends and family and life, there would be no stories to tell or music to write.  And in that quiet, at last, I am ready to begin.

Anxiety, Inspiration

In Two

The day I broke my hand was really just like any other day.  A situation with certain variables, and a resulting outcome.  I needed to get to work.  The skytrain was down.  The busses were full.  I rode my bicycle, a car wanted to pass me, and I crashed trying to get out of its way.  In the first moments, I was most concerned about my head – I had hit it pretty hard, and I was worried about a concussion.  I noticed blood on my hands, but couldn’t feel anything.  I blacked out while waiting for the ambulance.  It wasn’t until the second hour of waiting in the emergency room that I realized my rapidly swelling hand had taken the worst of it all.  Two hours after that realization I was back at home in my PJs, dazedly trying to make a cup of tea with a cast on my left hand.

I learned a lot of things from my month in a cast.  I am a hand talker.  I am someone who often touches other people on the arm or hand when I’m making a point.  I like to make notes.  I like to do many things at once.  I was unable to do any of those things with my dominant hand folded up in plaster and tensor bandages.  Instead, I had to do lots of things I don’t like, such as ask for help, do one thing at a time, and just ‘relax’.  I found acceptance of only being able to hold a coffee or an iPhone at once (oh how I loathe my own dependence on technology).  I met many kind and considerate strangers out in public who were intuitive in sensing the need for help (anything from tying shoelaces to picking up dropped items), and I heard lots of stories of other broken bones.  I was stunned by the compassion from people with permanent injuries to their hands and feet who would talk to me out of the blue to ask how I was holding up.

In the four weeks I was unable to use both hands, I had more writing deadlines than I’d had in the last year.   I tried dictating to patient Arlen as he typed, but I have enough trouble getting words past my own editing faculty to put them on paper, let alone passing them through someone else’s ears first.  Unable to handwrite (my right-handed cursive proving hilarious but illegible), the only option I had was typing with one hand.  The rush of words and ideas came too fast and my one hand, spidering across the keyboard was too slow.  I had to write.  I had workshops and meetings days away and a backlog of inspiration but when I sat in front of my computer all I got was a big, chest-pain inducing, NO NO NO feeling.  And it was terrifying.

I survived, as we always do with these big things.  I got my cast off three weeks ago now and bit by bit my hand is healing, though weaker than before.  I picked up a pen right away and my WPM is back as it was before.  I am more grateful than ever that words can go from heart to page as smoothly as can be again.  I guess if you had asked me 2 months ago before the day the skytrain broke down if I feared something happening to me that would change my relationship with my art, that I would have understood the premise intellectually.  But there’s no way of knowing what it feels like until you just can’t, until you get that NO NO NO feeling.  All the while I knew I had the luxury of a date on my calendar when the cast would come off and things would be ‘back to normal’ again.  I can’t even concieve of the strength of people for whom that day likely won’t come.

Since then, I’ve been watching people’s hands.  My mother is a clothing designer, and I don’t think I ever fully realized the amazing alchemy that happens in her studio.  I bring her bolts of fabric and she stitches and pins and paints and turns out beautiful garments, one of a kind creations.  I think about her hands, strong and skilled with years of expertise and artistry running from fingertip to seams.  I can only imagine how many things have been made with those two hands, making something out of nothing.   To help myself build back my strength, I am teaching myself to play the ukulele.  I’ve never played an instrument before and so the feeling of strings under my newly callused fingertips is thrilling.  I feel the years ahead of making music and taking photos and word words words I have are a gift.  Just like my mom and the meters of fabric that are her medium, I know there is much to come from a pen and paper and these two hands.  And pretty soon, one of these days I’ll get back on my bicycle.