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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.
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.
In July 2016 I was asked to write a short essay about being a black writer in Canada. As it is Black History Month and I'm still a writer it feels fitting to post this on my website.
Thank you Michael Wheeler and Sarah Garton Stanley for giving me this opportunity.