These are a number of little thoughts and phrases I jotted down throughout my tour. The emotions of being on tour.
I literally collapsed within my first few days on the tour. Stress, sickness, low blood pressure, and a particularly poorly chosen hot bath.
“Damn you for making me cry.”
Someone in Toronto told me they loved me. In that way. They meant it, with all the power of sincerity.
Two starred reviews. 3 stars in London, 4.5 stars in Saskatoon. The first, other artists apologize to you for, for some reason. The second, they cheer you on, all day long.
That giddy grin for no reason whatsoever.
That giddy grin for oh so many reasons.
Laughing home on a borrowed bicycle at 3am.
Performing for three people (two performers and a volunteer) in London. Performing for 45 people in Saskatoon. Getting the standing ovation.
I don’t care if standing ovations don’t mean what they used to. They still mean a lot to me.
Getting teary-eyed onstage. Having your story honestly hit yourself in the feels.
For the past decade, I have been asking myself, ‘where is home’? This summer, I felt kisses of it all across the country. Let me tell you stories. Lead me into your home. Let’s be together, and if it’s only for a short time, then we’ll make that time mean something. Home is a loving invitation.
“If you haven’t seen The Hatter, GO SEE THE HATTER! It’s incredible.”
A guy came to see my show. Throughout the week, he was staffing a street store as a favour to a merchant friend of his. After the show, this man went out of his way to track me down and get a stack of handbills from me, so he could pitch my show to people who came to buy things from him.
He later told me he used to work in a prison. The job took its toll on him, including him finding a number of suicides, which traumatized him quite severely, to the point where he didn’t leave his house for years. Eventually, slowly, with many tiny steps, he began to reintegrate with the rest of the world, a process he is still working through. The street crowds intimidated him, but to be out in the sun left him gloriously shouting joy to the heavens. He told me he could really relate to Earnest and The Hatter, to the idea of hiding down a rabbithole. That my show really touched him.
“Oh yeah, that actress told me she might hook up with you.” “Why didn’t she tell ME?”
“My last bus comes in twenty minutes. Am I taking the last bus home?”
The Hatter is the story of a man trying to get home. Desperately, desperately trying to get back home.
In hindsight, I would’ve thought that taking such a show on tour would have made me more homesick.
“You have so much talent, and it would be a shame for you to miss out on even one opportunity to hear that. You are a brilliant actor, but also a positively amazing writer. Your show made me feel something, and that’s what good theatre should do. Thank you for that. I hope you know how much your art matters.”
My show gets emotional. I imagined it, I wrote it, and I’m performing it. Which means that through all of it are real emotions, which, when shared through the art of storytelling, create a sort of lopsided level of intimacy between myself and each person in the audience. Which is an odd way to kickstart a relationship.
I say kickstart, because after the show is over, these lovely audience members already now know enough about me to know whether or not they want to have a conversation with me, before I’ve even met them. I don’t need to go through the other half of ‘here’s who I am’. They’re strangers to me, while I am now someone ‘known’ to them. This means I can keep the first conversation I have with them, about them. It was really quite refreshing to jump into conversations with complete strangers with an eager curiosity, knowing that that they’ve already seen much of what makes me, me.
This week I was asked by The Charlebois Post to answer a question. I thought I would post my response to it now, as I wrote it a few days ago, and it is already a little out of date, as Ottawa Fringe has just come to a close. Enjoy!
The Question: Since you’re half-way through touring The Hatter, how would you describe the overall experience of presenting it in London and Ottawa. Any differences in audience reaction or in any other way?
It’s hard for me to separate my experiences of performing in each city from my feelings towards being on a Fringe tour overall. London Fringe, as my first stop, was all about getting my bearings. I haven’t travelled much, and I fell ill for three days right off the plane, including passing out, naked, on the floor of my billet’s bathroom. Not only that, but it was a new show! My first London performance was the first time I had ever performed The Hatter. I was memorizing lines up until showtime, with scenes jumping around and switching places for the first few performances.
That being the first time I had presented the material, during my time in London I was also feeling out the character of The Hatter and his personal arc. Some of the aforementioned accidental scene switch-ups, I decided I liked, so I have since implemented them. I also found a slew of other lines which I didn’t really need to say, managed to reintroduce an old scene, and occasionally enjoyed my on-the-spot paraphrasings so much that I’ve edited them into the play. So everything onstage evolved rapidly in London.
Due to being given a small venue, they also allotted me more showtimes, which meant I was performing essentially almost every single day – only one day off – so most of my time was spent in pre-show prep/flyering and post-show recovery. While I did once manage to meet up with an old friend, but there was far less downtime to this whole ‘performing in Fringe Festivals’ thing than I had previously anticipated.
Other than my lovely billets, I also didn’t interact much with the locals. A few nice conversations, but mostly I hung around with a handful of other performers who I knew or was getting to know. Quite a lot of solitary time – which I didn’t really mind, surprisingly.
By now, with only a few days left in Ottawa, I think I am finally adopting the necessary mindset towards socializing while touring – something I’d been missing in London. Ordinarily at the back of my mind with every conversation I’m having is a radar scanning along, looking for hooks, ways to continue the relationship between myself and the other person. How can this association, this friendship, this relationship, be maintained, continued into the future? But that doesn’t work so well when you know you’re leaving town in a week’s time, and aren’t sure you’re ever coming back.
So instead, Fringe is making me be more present than before. This conversation with a local which I am having right now, this conversation is its own encapsulated moment, never to be repeated. It can only be enjoyed now for what it is, because it isn’t the precursor to something else down the road. It just is what it is, straight up, hold the ice. And it’s the same for them! I am just a travelling performer, rushing through their town, and yet they still want to talk to me. I guess that makes me interesting.
Being in a BYOV, I am still performing almost every day here in Ottawa, moving from ten performances in London to nine here, to seven in each of Toronto and Saskatoon. One big personal goal of my fringe tour was to allow myself to enjoy travelling, and while I’ve gone to the house of commons and the supreme court, I’m finding I’m more engaged by chatting with people and asking them what they think of their city. Ottawa’s winters are too long but they couldn’t imagine a life without snow. The only jobs are government jobs, but the place throws great parties and is kept young by all the universities. I’ve never seen a city with so many police cars, but I suppose that makes sense.
As to the show itself, adapting it from a tiny room to a church auditorium had its share of surprising elements. I still find myself occasionally waiting for lighting cues which existed in London, but couldn’t be done in Ottawa, and due to the resonating echoes of the room, I actually need to perform more quietly in the auditorium than I ever did in London.
As for the audiences… to be honest, I am just over-the-moon thankful that I have audiences. My first two performances in London, the only people coming to the show were volunteers, fellow performers, and media. Not a single ticket sale. Great for workshopping, not so great for not-becoming-financially-destitute. Then on the third day, fifteen paying audience members. I can’t say I kept up the third day’s numbers for the rest of the run, but until then, I admit my worries were getting the best of me. Ottawa’s audiences, hopefully due to the generally positive press I’ve been receiving, have been slightly more numerous. With BYOV venue fees, I won’t break even on this stop, but this trip was always designed as my ‘tuition’ for learning how to tour with a show. Next year I’ll earn my profits. 🙂
I love meeting people on the street in Ottawa. London-folk are lovely, but the number of times Ottawans have asked if they can have a picture with me (in full Hatter garb) really brings a smile to my face. Yet for all that gregariousness, Ottawa audiences are also far less willing to sing along with The Unbirthday Song. Interesting divide, there. (NOTE FROM FUTURE ANDREW: My final audience in Ottawa was LOVING singing that song. Go figure.)
In both cities, I have made fans of my work, and with every other performers’ shows I see, I get little glints of inspiration, ways to continue to explore this play, tweak it, refine it. Watching Nancy Kenny‘s excellent Delores reminded me to pay attention to the main relationship within The Hatter, while Kurt Fitzpatrick’s Cathedral City and Bruce Horak’s Assassinating Thomson have a new show slowly building itself in the sunshine nook of my mind.
Which I suppose means I’ll need to do this crazy Fringe Festival thing again next year. What a daunting, exciting, intimidating, and thrilling notion.
Before then, however, I have seventeen performances in two and a bit Fringe Festivals (FUTURE ANDREW: Okay, two festivals. Plus possibly Nanaimo now?), one theatresports performance on Canada Day (FUTURE ANDREW: Which was AWESOME), at least fifty-five dreaded hours on greyhounds, and whatever else crops up (Nanaimo?) before this summer ends.
“Inevitably, solo shows live or die on the abilities of their performers, and The Hatter is no exception. In that department, writer and performer Andrew Wade doesn’t disappoint.“
Wade embodies the character of the Mad Hatter perfectly. He’s high-energy, even with a pretty low-energy audience, he never breaks character, and his impressions of the Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland are fantastic. He’s also really wonderful at improvisation.
The themes are dark, powerful, and frighteningly mundane.
Nine hours of Greyhounds later, I arrive in Ottawa, lugging my two giant suitcases out of the bus, wishing I hadn’t packed such a props heavy show. But it’s a good show.
The bus was an hour late, but my billets only live what should be a half-hour walk away. Outside the bus depot, I stop and put on an extra shirt to cover up from the chill night air, an hour chillier than I was expecting. While there, a taxi driver offers a lift. At a cost, of course, but as a minimum wage worker who expects to lose money during his stay in this town (due to Bring-Your-Own-Venue fees), eh, I’ll save the money and walk with all my gear.
I forget in that moment how uncomfortable it is to have a backpack heavily laden with a huge brick of a laptop. A backpack whose straps have each broken earlier in my tour, and so now are held on by uncompromising, unextendable duct-tape, so that one strap is longer than the other, creating quite a lot of strain on my left shoulder.
I immediately regret my decision not to just take the taxi.
Three or four short but-oh-so-long blocks later, I am passing by a Subway sandwiches restaurant when a woman in the parking lot, a propos of anything, offers me a ride to wherever it is I’m going. Clearly she could see my Sisyphian struggle rolling my body’s weight across the pavement, and took in my Mad Hatter’s hat, perceiving that I wasn’t a threat to her or her daughter.
I swear, traveling is just improving my already high opinion of strangers, tenfold. Just so gosh darn nice.
We stop at my new billet’s place, where the couple I am staying with, Dean and Ruth, are waiting outside on the porch to greet me. Them and their giant black dog. I thank my ride and leave them with a business card and promise to offer them comps, but they want to pay for tickets to support me. Hopefully I hear from them.
At this point, all I know about my billets are that they have a giant dog, that they don’t own a vehicle, and… and that the man looks and dresses like the prototypical Amish gentleman. Like someone who would be right at home at a barn-raising, right down to the impressive and impressively sculpted facial hair. I have an immediate wonder as to whether or not their home will have electricity.
Half an hour of conversation later (in the well-lit, not-at-all-a-barn home), I discover that my billet is a storyteller who will be performing a version of Moby Dick. Which explains the facial hair somewhat. (Though his wifi internet password DOES relate to Amish communities, not to be any more specific about it.)
(He is clearly a complex man.)
But here I am, in the nation’s capital, eager and ready to take in a new environment. I mean, London was nice, but if you had told me I was off in a corner of Victoria or somewhere slightly inland from Abbotsford, I might have believed you.
Thus far, I’m finding that people are genuine and kind to me wherever I go, and that most of the stores are the same across the country, or have near to identical analogues, anyhow. Far more similarities than differences, in all but the wildlife. Which makes sense. With the ready ease at which people can travel across this country, similarities and homogenous communities are bound to emerge. But the porcupine crossing the road outside Ottawa won’t make his way into Richmond any time soon, nor the beautiful magpie stuck in the Calgary airport terminal, or the large turtle outside the rest-stop midway between Toronto and Ottawa, unwilling to decide whether or not he dare try to cross the highway.
I’ve got a startling two more months left in my own migration pattern this summer. The odds of me actually going Mad doing all this traveling by myself are still rather high, for those of you taking bets. And this is apparently an absolutely no gluten household, which also doesn’t have a blender, so there goes essentially how I make all of my meals. SO! Got to figure out how to survive on more than apples and bananas. Hrmm.
This should be quite an interesting two weeks! With all that’s ahead of me, I really am looking forward to sharing The Hatter with this city, the capital.
In London, I was visiting a small city solely for Fringing purposes. In Toronto, I will be exploring the city where most of my classmates moved to, post-graduation, seeking a world of greater performing opportunities (both stage and film, nowadays) and greater government funding and support. (My beloved BC has more artists per capita than any other province, but by FAR the least amount of funding per capita for the arts.)
But Ottawa is different.
I don’t have a lot of childhood memories, I don’t think. But I do remember with some details my father’s ill-fated run for office with the Reform Party, back in, oh, 1994 or so. It’s only natural for boys to admire their fathers, but I had good reason to – he really wanted to be a public servant, to represent and help his constituents on the national stage, and while he may not have achieved that dream, that noble goal still resonates with me. In the background of my life I find myself quietly, slowly, training. A few years on Senate at UVic. A leadership role with Peer Helping. Studying political blogs and current affairs. All awaiting for that day when I’m in my 40’s when I may very well aim to be public servant in some capacity, at some level, myself. So, to find myself in Ottawa! Time for a little exploration, another building block to mount atop another.
But that goal is some sixteen years away. Let’s get back to the present. Back to a tea party. Back to a bed lined with giant dog hairs, my kind, not-Amish hosts, two overflowing suitcases, and three fringe festivals to prep for.
Hello, Ottawa! I have so looked forward to meeting you.
Just wanted to share with you my posters for my upcoming tour of The Hatter! I have a pack of posters for each city sitting and waiting for me to pick up from the printer downtown, and I can’t wait to see them in person!
Theatre Production 101 – Don’t Do It Alone. Don’t. Seriously.
That’s all I wish someone had told me. Though I admit that if someone had, I would have sunnily ignored their wise words and continued on my merry way, because I, the eternal optimist, know I am a very capable individual. After all, I’ve pulled a couple of Fringe shows out of my hat before! How hard can this next one be?
And with that thought, I entirely overlooked the fact that putting on a local Fringe show and putting together a solo tour across several provinces are two VERY different beasts. The Hatter is driving me Mad.
(The name of my show is ‘The Hatter’. In case that wasn’t apparent.)
We are t-minus three weeks until I head to Ontario for the very first time (aside from once as a child being locked in a small room at the Toronto Airport for five hours). T-minus three weeks until I begin a tour of London, Ottawa, Toronto, and Saskatoon over the course of two and a half months – the longest amount of time I will have ever been away from where I live. And for the life of me I have not been able to work on the show for more than an hour or two.
Oh, I’ve worked long and hard on the PRODUCTION, squeezing time between my minimum wage day-jobs and evening performances of other shows (eight shows a week of Beggar’s Opera, most recently) to fit in promotional photoshoots, to fill out of endless tech forms, to construct press releases I haven’t yet sent out, to conduct desperate searches for stage managers for each city (still looking for London, Ottawa, and Toronto, if you’re in one of those cities and interested!), to schedule performances, to make travel plans, to design posters and handbills, to figure out what to do with my worldly belongings while I’m away, to get costume pieces fitted and created, to figure out props…
But do I have a script? Nope. Do I have lines to learn? Not yet! No time. Just. No. Time.
I only have myself to blame, really. Sure, I could have turned down a workshift here or there, but my rent this month won’t get paid on future possible-maybe-hopefully-ticket-sales.
And there are the timeframe issues. The play doesn’t need to be performed until June 5th. But the production aspects need to get done long before then. I need to figure out how I’m getting out there. I need to print promotional materials, and I need to have stage managers in each city. Everything else seems to need to happen first.
I am still ever the optimist. This show is, after all, based on a show called The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party which I essentially improvised at the 2011 Vancouver Fringe. (The one review I received seemed to like it: http://tiny.cc/194sww .) To be honest, that show mostly came together in the four days between Victoria Fringe and Vancouver Fringe, as I ran out of time there as well, when Victoria Fringe proved all consuming what with my directing one show (BFA: The Musical!), stage managing another (Sonnets For An Old Century), and writing/performing a third (William vs The World).
I was also MOVING from Victoria to Vancouver in those four days. Half an hour before the first performance, a friend and I finally finished making the final set piece. It was that close. But this time was supposed to be different.
This time, I was supposed to swoop across the country with a well-built, well-tested, emotionally and intellectually deep show about The Hatter remembering who he once was, with all the grief and desperation which comes with a man trying to forget his past and be gleefully, cheerfully Mad again.
It can still be that. But right now it is a play about a man desperately trying to find stage managers and wade through technical forms. About a man who somewhere along the line has gotten far too distracted away from the real goal – to create a strong, highly entertaining piece of theatre that has the potential to move people and change lives.
I still have plenty of time. Three weeks to find time to stop being such a producer and to remember how to be an award-winning playwright and actor again. Time to grab some post-its, a sharpie, a pen and a laptop, and remember how to have fun again. How to create again. How to play again.
I have been trying to get a proper post about Beggar’s Opera out for some time now, but it just hasn’t happened between working every day and performing eight times a week! I would love to inspire you with stories about the wonderful group of actors I have had the pleasure to share the stage with, about how Linden has been a great mentor for me, about the joy of having your own theme song, about SPACETEAM!, about how I see my future self a few years down the line in Gord and Nick as they discuss touring horror stories while sitting backstage with their very pregnant wives, about the kindness that infects the backstage area, about the thrill of going out and performing a show that wants nothing other than to be the most entertaining show on Earth… but there just isn’t time! No time at all! Even now, I steal minutes away from my workplace to ramble as I am!
Only three days remain – we close with a matinee on May 5th! Performance Works! Loving this show so much. I’ll miss these fine folks.
Tomorrow is tech day for Dracula: The Musical1, with an opening performance on Wednesday at Chapel Arts. It is a ridiculous show, a delightful cartoon farce. While I assure you it also has a through-line that makes sense, here is a clip our marvelous director showed us early on, to get us in the mood:
For me, the greatest aspect of working on this show (aside from the marvelous, wonderful people involved), has been being told directly to go as large as I want, to make the big choices, to let myself get carried away. So when I, as Van Helsing, am startled by the sudden emerging of Count Dracula, I can do the somersault backwards and try to swim along the ground to get away. I can be a magniloquent proclaimer. I can prove the superiority of garlic by biting directly into a clove of the stuff.
We, as an ensemble, together with Andy Toth’s brilliantly sophisticated and childlike sense of humour, have built an entire show full of these large and comic moments.
But when discussing the show with others, I am unwilling to call the show ‘over-the-top’. Because it isn’t. Every one of our moments works as an extension of these characters acting in this situation in the kind of world they live in. Believe me, throughout the rehearsal process, we tried many other gags that were over-the-top, that were ‘too much’. How so? Because those gags weren’t honest; they weren’t grounded in the insane-asylum almost-panto-esque world of Dracula: The Musical.
But to have that freedom to just give ‘er, to go all in, to take my character and go DO what I felt like doing in that moment in that scene… not only has that been my favourite aspect of working on this show, but I think that every time I have crafted a great performance, this has been the case. The world of a silly farce and the characters within may vary greatly from Shakespearean heroes or theatresports concoctions. A procedural detective on a television drama won’t flop about the floor like a fish, for example. But I think I am at the point where I can trust in myself enough to let go of the ‘is this too large for screen’ or ‘am I hamming this up enough’ internal directorial comments and just breathe in the scene of that world.
I can trust my instincts and do what I want to do. Try what I want to try. And if it doesn’t work, the director will tell me. But so many of our wonderful moments in this play emerged from someone just doing what felt appropriate in that moment, at that second, as their character. They were rooted in their character and engaging with a ridiculous scene in an appropriately ridiculous manner. And yes, hilarity ensued.
We did an exercise in my final year at UVic where we recorded ourselves reading sides for various television parts. The first time around, cognizant that stage acting won’t directly translate onto a close-up for a camera, I pulled everything in, emotions, emphasis, all of it. The footage came back flat and unremarkable.
Last month, VADA graciously held a free film workshop where we all were given some sides, and had the opportunity to look it over for a few minutes, then get up in front of a camera, and deliver them. And while initially I thought about camera placement and whether or not I should get myself in the mindset of performing for an audience of one (the camera), as I have done many times before, for whatever reason, I went ‘screw it, I’m just going to have fun and be this person as best I can’. And they all loved it. Kept using the word ‘quirky’ over and over again.
There is great power in the idea of just give ‘er. Of going all in. Of being as honest and present as you can, and trusting in your own awareness of the world your character lives in. It’ll only ever be over the top if you’re not engaged with what is going on around you.
I genuinely believe that we have a hilarious, beautiful show here, and I hope you can come out to see it. Feel free to stick around afterwards and say hello. 🙂
1(note: the show is actually titled Dracula: The Musical?, but putting the question mark in every time just wreaks havoc with readability. Also, apparently I can do footnotes on my blog. Be wary. Very wary. For I am a Terry Pratchett fan.)
The old season is ending. Long live the new season.
I often consider my life in the metaphor of a television series. (I like structure.)
Lately I’ve been looking at each year as a season. And since I’m not yet too far removed from 20 years of education, each year begins in September. Now, with any good episodic television show, there are individual stories and arcs that last over a few episodes, two-parters and the like, but there are also season arcs, overarching stories and themes that have their feet in every minor story that year. An arc could be a career path, a relationship status, a focus, a series of coincidences, health, friendships, projects… anything, really. What makes a season arc what it is is that pervasive nature with which they are progressed (or obviously stagnate) throughout the whole season. It’s these arcs I’d like to pontificate over.
THIS SEASON’S ARCS
This past year (September 2011 to September 2012), significant arcs I can identify that have made their way into almost every day of my life are (A) my career goal to connect with the Vancouver theatre scene and find paying work doing theatre, (B) reconnecting with my family (as last September included a move close to home), and (C) Being single without letting myself be single. (Like I said, stagnation can be an arc as well.)
As for (A), as with good TV, it started with a BANG (four days to write and learn and build a Fringe show for Vancouver Fringe?), then fell into a rhythm of better paced growth experiences throughout (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Great American Trailerpark Musical, The Boys In The Band, IGNITE! and The You Show with The Romantics, Shpadoinkle Day, and the National Voice Intensive), and showed a strong arc build, with my recent paid work at the Kelowna Summer Theatre Festival. This arc emerged from last year’s season finale (Stage manage, direct, and write/act in three different shows for Victoria Fringe?), and this year’s finale features an echo of last season with a return to Henry V with KeepItSimple, and an unexpected call from Bard on the Beach, asking if I could audition for them – a call I did not receive last year. The finale of this month also helpfully points toward plotpoints for next year, with auditions for paid work and opening hints of Dracula: The Musical.
For (B), seeing my parents and siblings every few days has been a blessing, giving me a sense of roots and the resolve to stay on the mainland and follow my path, rather than find somewhere to hide. An anchor.
And with (C), well… all I’ll say is I went on a total of three dates all year, and that while this year’s season finale won’t be what I’d hoped for, it might be what I need. As with many real television shows, this season will end with a meeting at a party. (Part of the reason I think in arcs is an act of hope and will that there will indeed be a great shift ahead.)
NEXT YEAR’S ARCS?
While I’m no clairevoyant, here are my predictions for possible arcs:
(A) Film and TV. I want to make a big career push in film and TV. I expect a slow build-up with student films, extra-work and the like, but I’ll happily accept a break if it comes. 🙂
(B) The Move Into The City, Proper. Not only does my family look like they may finally move out of Richmond after many years of pondering doing so, but the building I am currently living in is due to be demolished at some undetermined point – most likely in a year’s time. Just in time for the big finale. 😛
(C) Breaking The Social Isolation. Tied to the former arc, perhaps living with other people again, but more importantly, cultivating strong friendships and accepting new beginnings on the relationship front. More evenings spent with people, and not just for the purpose of rehearsing.
(D) Income Boost. Be it a successful passive income project, a lucky opportunity to act in a commercial, or something else, I expect growth from last season’s 10k income figure.
Other possible arcs include: Writing regularly / getting published (though I’m not sure I have the discipline for this in me, quite yet – through perhaps writing/running a D20 game could be a step), bouts of depression, a brilliant romance (apparently there’s still a hopeful romantic in me), connecting to political spheres, and connecting to nature (a highly rare experience throughout all of my life).
Now I head off to Victoria for the season finale – a step into my old world to see what experiences, which people, I’ll get to take from it into next season’s arcs, and what will get left behind.
I don’t know what will happen, but I plan on following the metaphor through. I want a big finale, with this season’s arcs resolved or transformed into something new. Next year’s arcs set-up. Surprises. A cliff-hanger. When I return to the mainland, I want my life to have been inexorably changed.
So if you want to help write the next season of me, or become a regular, now’s the best time to make a guest-starring appearance.
I need something big to happen so I can begin next year feeling renewed.
1. What do you think of the opportunity to perform here?
This has been an amazing opportunity and a fantastic experience – it really does feel like a ‘next step’ opportunity for me, to have a chance to step out from the community theatre world / Fringe theatre world and be paid to hone my craft not only as an actor, but as an assistant stage manager as well. I have invested a lot of time and money into this career (including a degree at UVic, and recently, some time with The National Voice Intensive), and to be chosen for this festival was honestly a relief – to know that I had the ability to be paid to do what I love.
Another reason this has felt like a ‘next step’ opportunity is the amount of support we actors have received, through billeting, introductions to the city, and other means. Working here has given me the confidence to, say, try to take another show on the road (such as perhaps aiming for a tour of Fringe Festivals).
I like the idea of outdoor venues, and I think we’ve got a great set up here. That said we did cancel two shows due to rain, and as an almost-Vancouverite, I’d be tempted to let the show go on, even when conditions are even a bit dicey. We had a great show that one performance where we went ‘unplugged’ because the audio equipment was too wet! Or shows can take a ten minute hiatus until weather improves. Or we can offer umbrellas or something. Take a risk. Make it an experience. Half of the joy of performing outside is that… well… it’s outside! Weather exists! We can work with that and create something unique.
2. What sort of impact does this opportunity/experience had on you? Your career? Finances?
I am hesitant to keep coming back to the financial angle, but I am approaching performing as a professional career, and part of that equation requires earning at least a decent chunk of one’s income within that profession. Prior to the Kelowna Summer Theatre Festival, I had broken even on a couple of Fringe shows, made a small amount of money in a playwriting competition, and earned 300$ performing at the UFV Director’s Festival, but other than these small successes, I had not yet found that elusive ‘paid theatre contract’. So this opportunity was like blessed manna from the heavens. And while the company may consider the rates to be humble, any paycheque I can earn doing theatre means I have more time in the future to devote to creating and pursuing more theatre, rather than needing to find my rent through a Joe job.
That ‘first opportunity’ is so important for an artist’s confidence. After I won a playwriting competition, I knew I had the ability in that field to create something worthwhile. But acting? Stage management? While I’ve earned a degree in the former and taken on a handful of jobs in the latter, I couldn’t until now point to them and say ‘yes, I have the chops to earn a living here.’
And to be honest? Perhaps the greatest benefit of the whole situation is now I have an amazing experience that I can point to whenever my mother says, ’I know this is something you enjoy, but how are you going to support yourself?’
3. How do feel about the whole experience?
I am over-the-moon grateful for this experience. I’ve now been in Kelowna for over a month – the longest I’ve ever traveled away from my homebases of Richmond and Victoria – and it has been a grand adventure, with two more weeks to go! A terrific growth experience to be sure, and one that I will always cherish.
One of the core, central beliefs by which I live is this: that all human beings are malleable. That I, and all of us, are capable of change, of growth, and of discovery, of making fundamental shifts in our worldview and in how we relate to others and ourselves. I’m a junkie for self-help books, websites, and audioguides ranging from C. S. Lewis’s Christian conundrums to Marc and Angel’s motivational posts to Morty Lefkoe’s limiting beliefs to Steve Pavlina‘s open discussions on everything from worklife to domination-submission. To anyone with an eye for how a person can improve.
In my own, personal story (elaborated on more substantially here), the single most important moment in my life was a time when I was in church, ten years old, with tear-filled eyes, my head down at my knees. At that time, I said to God, ‘I don’t like who I am. Help me become someone else, someone better.’ After that day, I looked to the people around me and observed what I admired about them, then sought to instill those values within myself. Courage. Humour. Honesty. Openness. Community-mindedness. Counsel. Extroverted exuberance.
When I tell this story to people – my origin story, essentially – the most common reaction I receive is this:
‘Well, you shouldn’t ever have to change who you are.’
(If you know me in person, you know it’s exceedingly unusual for me to use such strong language. If you don’t know me and don’t consider this word as ‘strong language’, please replace it with a suitably surprisingly bold word of your choosing.)
Don’t change? Bullshit. I say, change who you are. Constantly. Discover the very core qualities that make you, you, and on a deep, gut level, grok them, understand them, and then decide whether or not you want them as a foundation for who you are. Reevaluate. Over and over again. Everything from how often you smile and laugh, to how you spend your time waiting in grocery line-ups, to what you believe is fundamentally true about human beings, to how you interact with strangers, to what makes you afraid, to how honest you are, to whether or not you’re as good a friend, lover or acquaintance as you could be… constantly identify ways to grow, prune, build, and level. Then do it. Change.
It’s not surprising I entered the world of theatre. Here, I can wear the skins of people with different intentions, worldviews, tempos, and rhythms to my own. Sometimes while exploring a character I’ll find an aspect of them that satiates me on a deep, gut-level – a whole-body grokking – and decide to try to hold onto that aspect for myself. Iago (see here, here, here, and here) helped me explore the intensely gratifying thrill of untethered ambition. As Donald (The Boys In The Band), I discovered the honest love behind unconditional loyalty. As William (William vs The World), I spelunked into the dark world of how a person can use self-delusion to shield oneself from loneliness, and into the desperation that kicks in when those illusions disappear. Malvolio (see here, here, here, and here) taught me how to use heartbreak as a powerful driving force, and performing improv taught me to trust not only my own gut instincts, but also those of whomever with whom I am sharing a moment. Over and over again theatre has helped me continue to shape and mold the very nature of who I am, cutting into the marble, adding slops of wet clay, drilling and firing and smelting and blooming.
One of my other core beliefs is this: I respect anyone who is trying to better themselves, be they an addict, my mother or even a former serial killer. We can all be better than who we are; we are all works in progress, always. That doesn’t mean we are not good, honest, eager, excellent people in the here and now. What it means is that we’re human. Malleable. Full of hope and opportunity.
Whether you want to or not, we all change. It happens. No one remains the exact same person throughout the course of their life, or heck, throughout the course of a year, or a month. What we can do, however, by admitting our protean possibilities, is direct that change for the better, be that through eliminating beliefs that are hindering, through shifting your perspective of yourself and of the world, through adopting new practices and personality goals such as honesty and openness, or through pursuing an innumerable other opportunities to grow, weed, cut, feed, nurture, and breathe.
There are many reasons someone might tell you to never change who you are. Perhaps they’re worried you don’t feel self-worth in who you currently are. Perhaps they worry you’ll trip up somewhere along your personal journey and get lost. Perhaps they’re afraid you’ll become someone other than their expectations of you. Perhaps they worry you’ll leave them behind. Perhaps it’s just their way of saying ‘I love you for who you are now.’ But I would add to each of these that anyone who tells you to never change who you are, refuses to see how amazing-brilliant-marvelous your future self will be.
Warning: This post gets a little personal. Just so you know. But I think it’s valuable to work things out in a public setting, and perhaps you’ll find something you relate to.
My whole life I have been afraid of my body taking control of me. It’s time I focus on being whole, instead.
The body is a scary place, not the least bit because it’s where we feel our fear, in the rising of our hair as goosebumps send our follicles reaching to the heavens as though at gunpoint, or that sudden, sickening, nauseous, heavy thud at the back of the stomach, or up and down shivering legs and quaking knees. No, it’s scary because there’s such a lack of self-control and awareness.
Right now, blood is coursing all throughout my body, and I can’t even feel it. If an air bubble were to build in one of those channels, I could be dead in a minute’s time. Or that loving embrace shared with a sweetheart that I know is causing chemical reactions in my brain that are in some ways equivalent to a heroin addiction, so that without my control or, possibly, desire, I might be chemically pulled toward that person for who knows how long. Perhaps forever. The fat cells that actually secrete somethings that cause a person to be even hungrier. The thousand dangerous points where a misplaced punch could end my life.
There is the flipside of this, of course. The lack of a need to actively coordinate and control my breathing and pulse, for example, is much appreciated. Just taking care of that would take up rather a lot of my time. And though we are fragile, we are also incredibly resilient.
Still, for most of my life I have detached myself from my body, from that moment in grade four when we went over anatomy for the first time. A graphic chart of tendons and muscles and ligaments and organs, of danger and secret rivers. A queasy attempt to feel them inside me. Shudders.
The day I stopped running with abandon and scraping my knees. Never felt all that safe running on wet concrete ever since.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where I was allowed sips of wine or beer at special family gatherings like Christmas and Thanksgiving, which demystified alcohol for me, and allowed me to know that I wasn’t the type to become an alcoholic. I trusted myself on that front. But I did not trust my own willpower (or my body) enough to try marijuana until I was 24. And even that was with one of those, oh, not bongs, but whatever they’re called. And I’ve only tried that perhaps three times, in very safe situations. Because I didn’t want the chance of something triggering, and then being controlled by my body. And while this next fact is to many of you probably TMI (too much information), in order to explore the topic fully I should admit that the first time I masturbated wasn’t until I was 17. Because I didn’t want to become some horndog boy controlled by his body. I wanted to be me.
Honestly, there is a lot to be said for detachment, to feel like one’s head is a conquering crab atop an inert granite slab of a body. Puzzle solving and analytical solutions. An ability to calmly enter situations, debates, and problems that cause others to yell, scream, run and hide. I’ll pick up the spiders. I’ll put on that harness and scale the wall. No superstititions. Stability. Intelligence.
So yes, a lot to be said for detachment. But not a lot to be felt. For some people, this isn’t such a problem. But me, I’m an actor. I’m someone who wants to be in loving, romantic relationships. I’m someone who, now, at least, wants to be fully human. Not some clever floating head, but a grounded, emotional, grokking individual.
This is part of the reason why I was drawn to acting in the first place. Here, on the stage, in the script, are all these characters who deeply feel and yearn and reach. This is why Shakespeare is so fantastic, because his characters speak and feel honestly and openly. The jealous ambition in Iago, the crushing betrayal in Malvolio, the naive love of Lysander. I’ve always wanted to play the role of the lover onstage, because, well, it’s lovely to love someone. But to a typically detached person, it is also so very satisfying to rage injustice, to hate someone, to scorn someone, to grieve for someone. In the twinned poles of acting, where one side is sheer and incredible imitation without sensation, and the other an out of control trainwreck of overwhelming, cascading emotions, I have spent most of my life in the former’s camp, while envying those rolling about the floor in tears.
Not envying too much, mind. That would require too much connection to my body. I’ve described myself before as sometimes feeling like a stuck pickle jar that just won’t open. Which can sound tragic, but when you are that stuck pickle jar, it is an annoying but not at all overwhelming sensation. It’s more of a feeling that something is missing, like you’ve left the house and you’re on the bus, but you know you’ve forgotten something at home.
Then, a year or three back, I made a conscious and vocal decision to find a way to more deeply access my emotions. Partly, I worried if that depth was really there. I did research on sociopaths and autistic tendencies. Someone loved me more than I loved them, and I didn’t know if I was even capable of equally caring about them as they did, me. I was concerned. But not distraught. That would require too much connection to my body.
I recall breaking up with someone and being overwhelmed with sadness in that moment, one of only three times in my life that I can recall being so taken with grief, and even as I was breaking two hearts, a fair chunk of my brain was cheering because that moment showed that there was indeed potential for me to be an emotional individual. To be swept away by the tide of a moment.
I’ve recently spent five weeks at Canada’s National Voice Intensive, run in part by the brilliant David Smukler. When we begin the program, we put into words what we believe our ‘dragon’ to be. I said I was afraid that there was a ceiling to my growth as a person, some barrier I would never be able to cross, blocking the world of pow’rful love.
One activity had me shouting out a line to ever increasing distances. After getting the placement in my mouth just right, and feeling the breath, I found I could technically boom it out there, but… but I knew there was so much more within me, like I was only using two of the eight cylinders to my engine. So much more potential for my voice. When Smukler told me that the other cylinders would come with (and forgive me if I’ve misunderstood) real emotional intent, my first instinct was utter surprise. Apparently my first reaction to great emotion is to cringe inwards, to hide it, rather than to communicate it out to the heavens.
In university, I tried to access emotions like a man at the gym tried to access muscles – with isolations. Need to be panicky? Alright, I’ll focus my breath at the base of my spine. Need to be all lovey-dovey? I’ll try to place my breath and concentration at my heart. Intellectual? The back of my neck. All very specific, and for the rest of the time, my breath would sit up at the top of my lungs, assured that there was always an ocean of breath below, which was never actually being accessed.
Possibly the biggest technical thing I learned at the intensive was that breathing out fully is the only way to fully allow the new breath to enter. I can be confident that even at the vacuum point, there will still be air enough in there.
But even though that’s a technical statement, it’s the first step in feeling as a full-bodied person. I am not a head attached to a body. I AM a body, with a head brain, a gut brain, a heart, and yes, even a libido.
To grok something (a verb out of Heinlein), means to me, to understand something with one’s whole body. To feel it as well as grasp it intellectually, so that the feeling and the knowing come together to be this one felt, active knowledge, this… grokking. I want to grok life. To grok love. To grok my characters and their situations. To grok myself and my situations. And that won’t happen unless I allow myself to be a physical, intellectual, emotional, whole-bodied person who breathes from the lake within me and allows every new breath to be a wonderful, gutfelt discovery.
Hopefully some of these sentiments resonate with you on your own journey. Thank you for reading.
Riaan Smit as the hustler, Andrew Wade as Michael’s friend and Michael Barry Anderson as the unexpected straight guest did fine work in their underwritten roles.
I was really appreciative that I finally got to see this ‘notorious’ play and found the story funny and darkly moving.
Given that I felt it was my weakest performance of the run, I’m delighted to receive such high praise. I’m not sure I agree that my role is underwritten, however. True, I don’t get a big emotional moment for myself like most of the other characters, but I’m onstage for pretty much the entire show, from an extended opening scene to the powerful finale.
It seems to always be when I have the most to say, that I have the least amount of time to say it.
Right now, my life is on a crazy tear, as I am partway through an incredible run of 17 performances of The Boys In The Band with Ghost Light Projects, and it has been an absolute privilege to work with such a diverse, talented group to put on a stunningly scripted, two-act power-of-a-piece on two weeks of rehearsals and a lot of gumption. Our cast ranges from a Film and TV veteran up on stage for the first time to a new VFS grad, from a working actor who earns a good living off his profession to the ’emerging artist’ (me). Decades between the oldest and youngest cast members. Now, don’t get me wrong – I enjoy working with teenagers (such as on the Panto) and actors in their early twenties, but I am also SO very grateful for the opportunity to work with men (and woman) who have a lot more experience in theatre and in life than I do. One of our fine actors works at the Make A Wish Foundation, and this show has been a wish come true indeed.
When I first graduated, I was worried I would leave school and promptly not do any theatre, fall into a dayjob and not get back out. So to counter this fear I took on every project that came along (and still do – let’s be honest). And so, since I graduated, I haven’t had more than three or four days away from a rehearsal or performance hall. Include school projects beforehand, and that run stretches probably longer than a year. But, being who I am (a new actor who can sing), most of my theatre work in the real world thus far has been in musicals, so to have the opportunity to sink myself into such a marvelous, serious, funny script as The Boys In The Band has been a great leveler. It has pointed out all the habits I own that I’ve let loose in musical-land, which don’t work so well in the realm of realism. My enunciation and lapses into over-articulation and sounding slightly British. My breathing habits. Finding the right level of energy with which to enter a scene and hit cues. Keeping up the pace.
And with last night’s performance, I feel we really hit our stride. Please, check us out – it is a fantastic show, and a landmark piece of queer theatre. (Sidenote: I take far too much pleasure in being a straight man playing a gay character, such an opposite to the usual circumstance.)
Tickets can be bought at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/217822 , and when the questionnaire asks who sent you, tell’em you bought tickets to see me. So I can get a bit of a commission on them to subsidize my bus tickets. Thanks; I appreciate it. And you’ll appreciate our fine show.
I’m not prone to generalizations, but I don’t think it a stretch to say that everyone wonders at some point in their lives what other possibilities were out there, if they had gone down a different career path. What if I had gone into the sciences, instead? What if I had aimed to stay as a full-time staffer at that observatory? What if?
I will freely admit that I do wonder whether or not my own is the wisest course of action, whether my ambitious drive into the world of theatre is a quest worth pursuing, a goal worthy of fitting my whole life around. Whether I might be just as happy doing something else, somewhere else, for (assuredly) more money. More security. More regularity. Whether or not I should be proud of my current life of balancing part-time jobs in order to make just enough rent that I can spend all my weekends and evenings creating theatre and performing (typically without pay, no less!). After a stretch of working daytimes and rehearsing evenings, these thoughts can run through my head. I admit that.
That said, I flat out deny the notion of ‘if you can imagine yourself being content doing anything else, then DO THAT OTHER THING INSTEAD’ that gets floated about concerning all the arts (be they acting, writing, visual art, you name it). Hogwash. Of course I could find a decent modicum of happiness somewhere else. The world is great and vast, and there are so many excellent potentials out there, so many avenues to pursue, adventures to explore. Any man who could not find happiness in more than one pursuit is a man I pity. But I wager that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like standing centre-stage and igniting two hundred people into laughter, compassionate silence, or enthusiastic jeers. Nowhere else makes me so completely and wholly grateful to be alive.
Do I act to be famous? No, but it’s nice to be recognized. Do I act for the continually renewed challenge of live theatre? Partly. I’ve found that when the challenge of a job disappears, so too does my interest, whereas live theatre is a new and different adventure every single night, because the conversation between actors and audience is different every night, even if the lines and choreography remain the same.
But no, the main reason I perform is because the act of sharing a story fills me with a delight unlike anything else on Earth.
Except perhaps the happy dance I do after a lady agrees to go on a date with me. Even there, theatre might win out.
Saturday night was opening night for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a pseudo-pantomimish musical absolutely brimming with delightful energy. Big, bold, and British. Marvelous. And this show has instilled me, nay, possessed me, with a spirit of gratitude, from the moment we found our first preview audience. Since that first night, I have found myself treasuring my friends and family moreso than usual. I have repeatedly thanked God for all the opportunities in my life. I have found new ways to deeply enjoy my work. I have had a grin plastered on my face. I’ve had to suppress a strong urge to hug every friendly acquaintance I meet. I’ve needed less sleep. Heck, after opening night, and the opening night festivities, and post-festivities, I arrived home at 6am, and STILL had too much energy leftover to sleep for another couple of hours. I am vitalized, potent, present.
The lesson from all this? Life is a bigger, brighter wonderful when I have a stage and a story to share. It happens every show. Every project. And any time spent between performances, between opportunities, is a valley in comparison to this peak of exultant contentment.
And THAT’S why I’ve chosen a career in theatre. Not because I couldn’t possibly do anything else, but because, by gum, I have found nothing so irrationally fulfilling as this.