I am about as Canadian as a person comes; namely, I was born somewhere else (the States), my parents are immigrants from yet another country (England), I have both worked at and enjoyed many a good 2am conversation at Tim Hortons, and (if I am remembering correctly), Sarah Koury once described me as the most inoffensive person she knows. Or hardest to dislike, anyway. I listen to Stuart McLean’s CBC Radio podcasts every week, I am supposed to be French/English bilingual thanks to my entry into Late French Immersion, I once based a theatrical character on Harold from The Red Green Show, and, heck, I’ve even sung our national anthem on the ice at a hockey game.
And yet, despite all my innate Canadian-ness, I have a confession to make – I’ve never travelled the country. Never been anywhere east of Chiliwack for more than an hour or two, to be honest. Well, except for the dullest five hours of my life – the amount of time I spent locked in a room at the Toronto International Airport. On my way to somewhere else, of course.
Oh, alright, I’ll explain that one.
Waaaaay back when, my older brother and I went to visit my granddad in Florida, where he spent half of each year, minus a day. (Later, he would manage to get himself adopted by an couple in the 90’s – why not! His parents are dead! – in order to get American citizenship so he could stay for longer. He lives in the south of France now.) Anyway, as I was (…I believe…) only ten at the time, and my brother only twelve, we were declared ‘unaccompanied minors’ on the plane trip from Vancouver to Florida, with a transfer in Toronto. This meant that the flight staff were all very nice to us, lead us about… and locked us in a room in the Toronto airport for five hours, between flights.
The room contained a couch (which my brother promptly fell asleep on), a small table, a chair, and a television that would for some reason only pick up one channel, which happened to be showing – I kid you not – STAGECOACH RACING. Which sounds interesting! For about two minutes. And all I had with me was a substandard quality R. L. Stine book, The Beast, WHICH I HAD JUST FINISHED READING ON THE PLANE RIDE THERE. Not to great to start up again from the beginning. So, my impressions of Toronto have thus far been spoiled for life.
But yes, in my life I have visited Seattle, New York, Florida, Paris (for a day), and England on many, many occasions, but not once have I stepped outside an airport in any other Canadian province. Not even our neighbouring Alberta, though I did go to UVic, so I’ve met thousands of (former) Calgarians.
Why this burst of discovery writing? Two reasons. First, this week I began and finished reading Will Ferguson’s Why I Hate Canadians, an excellent book that managed to in Voltron-like-fashion combine a memoir, travel journal, and history book into an analysis of Canadian culture. Brother of my friend and director Ian Ferguson, Will has a keen analytical eye with just enough romance in his soul to be able to grapple with questions of patriotism, nationalism, and nature. This book WAS published in ye olden 1997, however. I would love to hear how he and his opinions on this country have shifted and changed with the collapse of the separatist movement and rise of the NDP. In the book, Will says, “The question is not whether Quebec will separate, but whether she will ever finally join us.” Have we now seen the next step toward that finally happening?
The second reason I’m drawn to writing this introspective post is, well, I was just rejected from the Ottawa Fringe Festival. Well, okay, not rejected, per say; it’s a lottery system, and my name wasn’t drawn out of the hat. So, rejected in the same way Nicole Rempel rejected me in grade six by way of us ending up in separate school districts.
But yes. I feel it’s time I explored more of this country, and not just to get the foul taste of my first experience with Toronto out of my mouth, not just because I one day would like to be an elected public servant in this country, not just because to be a working actor in this country means needing to move about and work in different cities… but because I want to step into different cultures with different ideals and motivations, all while keeping that olive branch of Canadian-ness. I may be eight thousand kilometres from Newfoundlanders, but we share enough in common to sit down and have a pint. And one way for me to explore this country is through the Fringe theatre circuit, travelling from city to city, performing.
But I need to get into the festivals to do that. So far, in this, the Fringe-entry drawing season, I am in for Regina and London, Ontario. Out for Saskatoon, Montreal, and Ottawa. I’ll need a few more cities to make the tour not potentially financially crippling. Here’s hoping.
Here’s to finally meeting more of this country I call home.
This is not a rebuttal of my prior post, but… take it as another view on my time here at the UFV Directors’ Festival thus far.
Welcome to Chilliwack!
As someone who has not travelled much myself, and rarely ever been involved in anything that might remotely be considered a road trip, I have often wondered just how CBC Radio‘s Stuart McLean could find such wonderful things to say about every city he visited. Surely some places just aren’t too memorable or interesting, right?
Well, I’m happy to say that Chilliwack is not one of them. Welcome to Chilliwack, where the local pub cheekily advertises “washrooms complimentary with the beer”, where the local university has a parking lot exclusively for female drivers after hours, and where the apparently only surviving club in town (the Echo Room) plays dance-ified Mario Bros and Zelda tunes. Yes, this is a city where every after-hours gathering takes place on the same short stretch of one main road, all of which happen to fortunately be a mere five minutes walk from my hostel.
Then there is my hostel, the delightful Song of Ruth House, so named, I’m sure, because every inch of it certainly sings the soul of the owner, Ruth. It is a house (perhaps acting illegally has a hostel * edit: see Ruth’s comment below) crowded to the brim with an endless assortment of interesting, intriguing, and overwhelming stuff, ranging from a delightful infestation of faeries and dolphins in the bathroom, to a retro CD player, at least a dozen lamps, a half-dozen electric heaters, and false walls cobbled together from spare wood, plastic sheeting, chicken wire, and whatever else was available, to create the different rooms for tenants to stay in. Every room, of course, is given a Hawaiian name. It all fits. And the whole house maintains a strict shoes-on policy, aside from the fenced off ‘private’ rooms, as the half-dozen cats are known to pee around the house – particularly the blind one. (But the floors are mopped every day.)
But be it the impressive and wild garden blocking the way to the front door, or the perhaps five dozen mugs in the house, it is a place with soul. While it may cost a mere 30$ a night to rent a room, Ruth – a self-confessed ‘vampire’ when I mentioned not being able to check in, on the first night, until midnight – made this place far superior to the fanciest hotel room I could have booked, when she greeted me with a hug and an assured “Welcome home.”
The festival itelf today was also a delight. Yesterday, we were given the opportunity in the opening ceremonies for the festival to do a one minute promo of the show. I bounded down to the stage area, and said something like this:
“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s running over a puppy with my bike. If there’s a second thing I can’t stand, it’s previews that give away the show.
Seriously, when I go to a movie theatre, when the previews are playing I’m going like this (sticks fingers in ears, closes eyes): LALALALALALALALA. So I’m not going to do that. So here’s something that isn’t in the show.
Ladies and gentlemen, standing in the… erm… green corner (the curtain was green), weighing in at 140 poun- okay, 155 pounds… WILLIAM! YAAAAAAAHHHHH! And in the, erm… other corner with a tall and somewhat intimidating man (one of the opening ceremony hosts, who must be close to seven feet tall), with a gravitational force of 9.83 Gs…. THE WORLD! BOOOOOOOOOO. (the audience joined in.) William Fights The World is a show about a narcissistic jerk of a man who thinks he lives an ideal life… and how that life gets torn apart.”
Okay, so I stumbled on the first line and said “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s running over a puppy with my dog. Bike. Running over a puppy with my bike.” But other than that, it went well.
Today, I performed William Fights The World (formerly William Vs. The World, as many people still entirely unrelatedly mistakenly called it, and probably soon to be retitled ‘William wrestles the World’ as one festivaler recommended for alliteration) for the first time. My first time carrying a one-man-show, speaking to an audience and holding their attention for 45 minutes, all the while figuring out better blocking on the fly, coming up with new and awesome jokes mid-show (none of which, tragically, I was able to remember, post-show), reacting with the audience, sharing in a story and a character with them, growing, and living, dagnammit, living in the space. The additions (a cactus, a few lines here and there), felt a necessary partof the show (and not just grafted on). The fantastic techies helped me build the lighting and sound cues hours before the first performance, and intelligently covered when I missed one of their cue lines.
And the audience laughed! And they laughed their hardest at the parts I wasn’t sure would be understood, at obscure-ish references and tragic lines, at William’s lack of self-awareness. I’m quickly learning that the more obscure or niche the reference, the more an audience adores you for putting it in a show (if they get it). Builds such a sense of connection with the performer.
I don’t know if the ending was understood, but I hope it sparked a few conversations.
And the other shows in the festival, mostly professionally written, but with a fully student conceived creations, were inspiring, with fantastic performances. In particular, so far, The Russian Play, by Hannah Moscovitch and performed by SFU students, an original piece called ‘What Daggers Before Me’ by Darcy J. Knopp and Tinman Productions at UFV, and ‘Afterglow’, a well-written two-hander by Peter Boychuk whose name I can’t remember about a meteor, a dead mother, and a failed attempt at romance from Thompson Rivers University.
A lot of the plays seem to focus on sex, coarse language, sex, and more sex, but these are university students, after all. It’s a significant subject to approach. (besides, goodness knows my own show features at least two-dozen f-bombs.)
Good day. Good day indeed.
Oh, and I also had a tea party with British accents in the green room (in honour of the royal wedding), played dutch blitz, and last night, in the pub, had an indepth discussion of Doctor Who, Neil Gaiman, and DC superheroes. Sure, these may have been even better times with a fellow UVic compatriot travelling beside me (though I did run into Graeme Thompson here, who performed as Hullaboo in a show I wrote (of the same name) for the IGNITE! Theatre Festival in Vancouver, and, briefly, a UVic first year named Frankie), but even still, even while known by most people here as ‘the only guy from UVic’ (with inflections indicating they are either impressed, worried, or wondering if I’m a control freak), this has been a great day.
Thank you, Chilliwack, and thank you, UFV Directors’ Festival.