Say What?

House Arrest: Day 15

This must be what house arrest looks like, I thought, as I sipped the Mexican hot chocolate my neighbour brought me, wrapping myself in an Afghan throw. At least there are mini yellow roses to brighten up the place…not that I can see them, of course.

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Jump at the Sun

David Auster was my mentor at the Stratford Festival for three months. I called him up one day in early March of 2017 and asked him if he’d like to be my mentor and, without thinking about it, said yes. He could have said no since he’d only met me a couple of times at various Stratford function. I was pleased at the possibility of learning more about producing in an environment like the Stratford Festival as my only experience had been working on my own plays with budgets not larger than $15,000. I was going to be allowed to look at budgets with several more zeros attached; it was exhilarating!

It’s been a week since I left Stratford on May 19 and what I remember most is the mentoring ‘lessons’ often accompanied food. Specifically, David eating. I made a point of taking a scheduled lunch at 12 every single day but, like most of the executive level individuals at the Festival, David ate at his desk and continued to work. A father to two young daughters, he made a point of leaving every day at 5pm in order to get home at a reasonable hour for supper.

It started with goldfish crackers handed to me on my first day as a wink to the goldfish dream I'd had before arriving. An orange was peeled and consumed as he explained the intricacies and difficulty of producing an original musical in Canada to me and Carson Nattrass. A 2 hour drive to Toronto to attend Musical Stage Company’s Funhome was a tab by tab walk through the exhaustive spreadsheets for the Festival. He stopped talking long enough to eat his dinner, a chocolate bar from a vending machine. He took me out for lunch at Mercer’s Inn to say goodbye but he used to opportunity to explain the hiccups that inevitably occur when a large production hits a snag (creative, financial, or otherwise).  David used every chance he could to educate me on some aspect of producing theatre at an elevated level.

It was especially important that not only did I get the producing education I craved from the Stratford Festival but I was welcomed into meeting rooms as not only an observer but as a participant. If you happened to be at the Festival Theatre or the Avon you might have seen me trailing behind David, walking as fast as I could, clutching a pink ‘Classy & Fabulous’ notebook where I recorded notes on everything. He always introduced me as an award winning playwright who produced her own shows; I always appreciated that little boost.

He checked in on me frequently to make sure that I wasn’t bored, lonely, or, after I rhapsodized over a slice of chocolate chip banana bread, stress eating. He took me grocery shopping and made sure I got to an emergency eye appointment in the middle of the day. This was a pretty lovely and productive mentor/mentee partnership and even though he wished he could have done and taught me more I feel like I am ready and armed to produce a large scale production while being a fair leader who truly listens.

The three month mentorship was an invaluable experience supported by the Ontario Arts Council and Theatre Ontario that would never have happened without the support and encouragement of Bruce Pitkin, Rachel Kennedy, Pat Bradley, Kristina Lemieux, Katie Leamen, Michael Wheeler, and Esther Jun. On the Stratford Festival side of things I can’t say enough to thank Antoni, Anita, Susan, Jason, Bob, Bonnie, Franklin, Joy, Marion, and Beth who made me feel like a part of the Director’s Office team.  I’m used to working alone to get projects completed but this experience required many hands and hearts for me to succeed.  I cannot thank all of these people enough for their generosity, warmth, and kindness.  I jumped at the sun and all of you helped me fly. Thank you.

Source: Jump at the Sun

See you in Hell, Olaf

Well, I made it. It was winter when I left Toronto, and today is the first day of Spring.  I have been in Stratford for one month and I've gotten the hang of how this town works now. Last night at 11 pm I shuffled out of my condo and threw my garbage on the curb. There was another bag and I shook my head because THEY forgot to use a garbage tag. Tut tut. I do think charging residents $2.55 a tag to dispose of their garbage is monstrous but what do I know about running a small town.

I won't be returning to Toronto until Passover which means I will be wearing my big, maroon, puffy coat and lumberjack boots for another 10 days as the temperatures soar. I've already experienced the sweat trickling down my back while walking home from the Festival at 5:15 because it's above freezing and it is not pleasant. That being said, I am still trying to channel my inner Olivia Pope as I walk the hallways of the Festival Theatre. I have the strut but I do not have the swag; it's Banana Republic on my back and I don't have a Prada bag (yet).

I have finished reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, Krapps Last Tape, and some short stories by Julian Barnes. I'm reading Winner and Losers by Marcus Youssef and James Long to understand how to structure a two-hander since I'm writing one with Nick Green; it's a really enjoyable play. I started reading the introductory essay to Coriolanus and put it down but, I swear, I'll finish the play before it opens on June 22. Andre Sills in a Robert LePage production? It's going to be beyond mind-blowing.

What have I learned in 30 days? I know how to use a toaster oven now but I just don't see the point of them when a toaster does the job faster. I can make a perfect soft boiled egg and peel the shell off in one move. Thank you, Bon Appetit. I miss seeing a couple of plays a week but I love having multiple evenings at home to do as wish. Spring is an opportunity to refresh and reboot and I’ll use the next three months to learn something new (and eat less chocolate chip banana bread, maybe).  But fellow Canadians, don’t be foolish, it’s going to snow again so keep the snow tires on and don’t put away your winter gear. We go through this every year! And you know what? The snow is pretty and the cold never bothered me anyway.

 

Source: seeyouinhellolaf

Praise Be, that Aint Buckwheat

I never saw black children onscreen when I was a child growing up in London, Ontario, except Buckwheat from The Little Rascals and Arnold from Diff'rent Strokes. They were mischievous, and they pulled funny faces. At no point do I remember a dark-skinned black girl who was smart and confident that I could point to and say, 'I want to be like her.' Penny from Good Times, maybe? Nah. She was being physically abused by her momma (remember that very special episode? With the iron??) and pretended to be Mae West. Oh Norman Lear, you did not understand little black girls in the 70's. *insert ironic coincidence here* A Wrinkle in Time Producer's Norman Lear connection

This was running through my mind when I took my nieces and nephew to see 'A Wrinkle in Time' this weekend. Even though they hadn't read the book I felt that it was important for them to see kids that looked like them onscreen. They're biracial, high achieving, happy children, but female and male heroes of colour in films are in short supply. When Ava DuVernay chose to cast Storm Reid in the role of Meg Murry she opened a door to a universe of possibilities for children of colour; it was a door I could never envision for myself when I was 12 and in love with Christopher Reeves as Superman.

Meg is smart, with big curly hair, and glasses. In fact she's a brilliant example of what a child exposed to science technology, and mathematics can do, if they had faith in themselves. The character is never embarrassed or shy about her abilities to solve a problem with physics. She understands that her faults can be her gifts and at some point gets out of her own way; but she does starts out as a self-conscious, sullen, angry, teenager. She hates the way she looks, is bullied, and get called to the Principal's office where she's given the opposite of a pep talk.

Meg comes around to appreciating her kinky, curly hair, and that's huge. Little black girls are bombarded with images of black beauty that reinforce the idea that only straight, silky hair is beautiful.  She scorns a compliment about her hair early in the film and it's a reaction to which I could completely relate. I wanted swishy hair, hair I could flip over my shoulder, and not be affected by shrinkage from pool water. Meg shakes off those shackles in a nifty moment where she pulls her hair into a bun and receives another compliment, which she accepts graciously.

At the end of the film my nieces were all atwitter about Storm Reid and her performance. They loved her, the child who played her brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and Meg's mom, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, MBE. I loved seeing this powerful, yet understated representation of strong women who didn't need to be saved.  Meg saves herself and family with intelligence, math, self reflection, and the realization that from pain comes strength.

Or, as Mrs. Who, played by Mindy Kaling, quoting Rumi says, "The wound is the place where the light enters you". 

 

It's All in Your Head

It's snowing again and I'm not even mad about it.

I’m loving Stratford. It’s pretty, small, and very quiet. I go to bed early, sleep well, and read a lot. I’ve been pretty darn comfortable.

It takes 20 minutes to walk to work and every trip results in pebbles in my boots. I walk funny. Or rather, I comport myself with a little too much twitch in my step. By some magic hot step of my own design I manage to flip small bits of stone into my footwear. It is very uncomfortable. If you see me walking down Ontario or Albert Street wearing giant headphones and a beatific smile on my face, you can bet I’m grimacing on the inside. I’ll eventually stop, untie the lace on one of my London Fog boots, pull it off and shake. Three or four pebbles will fall out. This happens every single day.

Yesterday as I winced in pain rounding Nile Street I came upon a revelation about my teeny companions: one must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Even though I was feeling great about my state in Stratford, I was troubled by distant memories about old betrayals, unfinished scripts, and creeping weight gain. As I ruminated on an old heartbreak that morning I banged my head on a lamp and I took it as a sign to be more present and enlightened. We really do create our own prisons.

When I arrived at the Festival theatre and removed my coat and scarf, I pulled off my boot and tipped it over to release the two rocks that had spring-boarded inside as I walked up Queen; I felt calmly hopeful about my day. I had a huge problem looming in front of me and had no idea how to fix it. By the end of the day, with the help of my mentors, the issue was resolved. But I know there will be another ‘crisis’ because they are as inevitable as the pebbles in my shoe.

 

Source: it'sallinyour head

Stratford Festival is Hogwarts

I've been living in Stratford for two weeks. I moved here on February 19, Family Day. The city looked like a scene from a movie because it was enveloped in thick fog and mist. For months I'd been anticipating a winter wonderland, but when I arrived most of the snow had melted. Also, every single store was closed. I'd expected a quiet town but, seriously, not one enterprising capitalist looking to profit from a poorly organized citizen? Not even Shoppers Drug Mart was open. There were about 4 restaurants open and I went to the closest one for a late lunch. I had pad thai for lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning.

As I walked to the Festival https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/ on my first day I worried about fitting in, being liked, getting used to a slower pace. I saw a black girl step out of a house on Albert Street and got excited. One of us! I beamed at her like an old friend. Had I been in Toronto I would have looked right past her since black people are everywhere. Here, they're special. We're special.

It takes 20 minutes to walk to the Festival from my place downtown. I listen to podcasts every morning on my walk. I choose a different route every day while listening to either 'Stuff You Should Know', 'Pod Save America', or my new favourite, 'The Nod'. Listening to The Nod serves as the conclusion to what I call, 'getting my black on' in the morning before work. 

As soon as I get up in the morning I open YouTube and start a series of music videos to which I get ready; usually it's either Rihanna, Kanye, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, or Kendrick Lamar. I dance around to this while twisting my hair into bantu knots and picking something cute to wear. I wish to represent like Olivia Pope but all I have is a Banana Republic budget, so I make do.

I sit in the Director's Office at a desk outside Anita Gaffney's office and try to get in no later than 9am. I work on my own producing projects and wait for David, Bonnie, or Susan (David's assistant) to grab me for a meeting. You know how in a normal jobs meeting are boring experiences that you doodle through? It's very different when the topics relate to all the inner workings of the theatre. As someone who spent years in the private sector booking meeting, attending them, taking copious notes, and being bored over another PowerPoint presentation, these Theatre meetings were fascinating. It's like seeing the wizard behind the curtain, except the reveal is wonderful, not disappointing.

Once I step out of the Director's office I am surrounded by the best creative talent in the country. People sing as they walk down the halls, hum as they're eating their lunch in the cafeteria, and just stride up to you and say, 'hello, my name is...you're new here. Welcome!' Warm welcomes from complete strangers happened so often that I've decided that Stratford has the friendliest theatre in Canada. I've already attended a birthday party, been invited to a second, and joined the company bowling team for a charitable event on Friday (it benefits the Suchitoto Project https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/AboutUs/TheSuchitotoProject). 

It may sound ridiculous but, this place is magical. The people here work long, hard hours, administratively and creatively. I imagine the dragons they battle are lack of sleep, anxiety about keeping their tracks straight, and eating properly (the cafeteria makes the best food, though). The Stratford Festival is the Hogwarts of theatre and it's pretty dreamy.

The water is hard, the people are warm, and the weather can't make up its mind. I like it, I really like it here, and I'm in no hurry to return to Toronto. Yet.

Spilling Tea

I sip green tea in the morning.

I've been in Stratford for one week. Anxious about how the change to my schedule would affect my mood I had been alternately excited and apprehensive about leaving Toronto for three months. I have left my home for that much time before, when I was on tour with various plays, but that was different. I was on the road in a new place every few days. This would be a complete upheaval of my very regimented routine that, while boring, was familiar. 

A year ago when I came up with the idea of taking a break from Toronto I was aggravated with everything. Stagnating, as well. I became a producer by accident and I seemed to have a knack for it. After producing my third indie show I wanted to learn something new. I figured the best place to learn was outside of my comfort zone and in a new place. My routine of gym-coffee-read-waffle over what to do-see a play-go to bed late was tedious.  

I get up early. 

I sit in my lovely place in Stratford and read the plentiful Facebook and Twitter posts about the plays I just 'have to see': Bang Bang; Jerusalem; Rhubarb; Cottagers & Indians; etc….but I can’t ,because I’m too far away to travel there and back in one evening. I’m learning to stop feeling guilty about missing plays because, try as you might, you're going to miss something. Besides, I’m on the Dora jury for the Indie category; I see plenty. 

I’m trying to drink less alcohol. 

I don’t make new year’s resolutions because I feel that quitting is almost a given. I am someone who cooks almost all of my meals, goes the gym regularly, calls her parents every week, and tries to keep her head above water as a writer/producer. I deserve a glass of wine at 5. But, lately I’ve been looking forward to a glass of wine the way normal people look forward to the weekend. I resolved that Stratford would be the impetus to change my routine; no more drinking. Ridiculous. There’s an LCBO across the street from my condo in Stratford. I bought my favourite: Small Gully Mr. Black’s Little Book Shiraz, and some McClelland that was on sale. No regrets. Then I went out for fried chicken at Laotian hotspot, Lauhaus, on Downie Street, since they would be closing for good the next day. It was delicious. 

Food Poisoning Can Change Your Perspective 

There are a lot of thoughts that run through your mind when you’re hunched over on the subway, traveling west on the Bloor line, covered in a thin coating of sweat, nauseas and trying not to poop yourself. One is: this is too nice a coat to have an accident and the other is, I really hope it wasn’t the fried chicken. Three hours later, prostrate and tired from illness, in my pretty condo all I can consume is tea. The next few days all I put in my body is broth, water, plain crackers, and green tea. I glare at the bottle wine, shudder at the idea of the McClelland, and stay away from all things dairy. When I woke up on Tuesday morning the sun was blazing, it was five degrees, and I felt less burdened than I’d been in months. The pressure I have put on myself is lifting and I think I may be freer than ever.