Rehearsing Original – week 3

Hello Internet, today is Sunday, November 25th (how did that even happen?), otherwise known as the day that Original loads into the theatre!

Billboard

Look, Mom, I’m on the wall!

For various scheduling reasons, I have a luxurious 2.5 days off while the production community loads in and does some programming. So, as I sit here on my couch drinking tea and typing, some incredible people are building a friggin beach on the stage at the LSPU Hall. They are great.

This week in rehearsal, we did lots of tidying up. This is a rather incredible situation to be in – to be able to spend the last 6 rehearsal days, not making new decisions, but just taking the time to work through the nitty-gritty ins and outs of how to move around the stage. In one scene, for instance, I make tea. So, figuring out when and how to get the pan out, pour water into it, fetch a tea bag, pour the now-hot water into a cup. Oodles of time to figure all that out. Incredible!

Also this week: there is a tiny bit of dance in the show and my incredible friend and colleague Corie came in to help me work it out/teach me how to sail turn. So, if you come to the show (which you should) and you think I look like I know what I’m doing for the about 12 seconds that I’m dancing, that is Corie’s doing and she deserves all credit. And, as a bonus, I got to spend an hour working in the Arts & Culture Centre’s Dance Space.

I think we, as a theatre community, might undersell how extraordinary and vital it is to have access to the Arts & Culture Centre. Donated rehearsal space has real financial value to a production like this one, and to be able to just walk upstairs and use a room with a sprung floor, a barre, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and an in-house sound system is an incredible asset. Producing theatre in Newfoundland & Labrador has its obstacles, but the Arts & Culture Centres make it far more possible for many small companies and projects to get off the ground.

This week I also started to work in my costume, and we did a makeup test on Friday that has me properly excited about the look of the show. Every element in this show is so well-thought out and the designers are all so excellent that whenever I am feeling like nothing is under control, all I have to do is remind myself of how great it’s all going to look and that really, everything is under control and all I have to do just right now is make sure I know all 5 verses of this song I’ve decided to sing in old Norse.

Ek fekk sofa lika vel, ek truða þat væri best — at hvila mik á goðu þel´ok gløyma svá folki flest´…

Original plays at the LSPU Hall THIS WEDNESDAY-SUNDAY, November 28th to December 2nd. Tickets are available here.

Rehearsing Original – week 2

Hello Internet, today is Saturday, November 17th, and we’ve been getting some weather.

Winterton beach

A week ago today, my husband and I went for a walk to a little beach, which a) is something we both like to do, and b) gave me the opportunity to do a bit of scrounging for the set. And while we were there, it started to snow.

It was kind of a perfect moment. The air was still (relatively speaking… this is Newfoundland, after all). The waves were rolling in, gently. I had a bag of small things and we were looking around for beach glass. And then big, soft flakes started to fall.

When we got back to the house, we started a fire in our backyard fire pit and there was a ring around the fire where the snow couldn’t stick to the ground.

The snow turned to rain that night, and since then we’ve been getting all the seasons. On Wednesday, for instance, we woke up to wet snow, and then it warmed up to 10 degrees. While we were in the rehearsal hall that day, we had new weather every time we looked out the window. At one point, mid-monologue, I totally lost my words because I glanced outside and there was a blowing snowstorm going on, and I was pretty sure that it had been sunny and way too warm for snow 5 minutes earlier.

The biggest wind storm on earth was in Newfoundland Wednesday evening and Thursday. Extremely tall waves. There was an emergency landing at Stephenville airport. Some worry about the workers on the offshore oil rigs. The Coast Guard was out in it.

Wind gusts up to 160km/hr in places. The power went out in parts of the city. And last night St. John’s had what might be the first proper snowfall of the season.

Luckily, the lights stayed on at the Arts & Culture Centre, nobody in our production community lost their roofs or siding, and we were able to work in a big room with a window from whence we could safely watch the drama going on outside.

I mentioned in this blog last week that the elements (water, air, earth, fire) have a big part to play in the script for Original, and I feel as though the blowing wind has found its way into my bones after this week. The way that the elements all impact one another – and everything living in the world – has been seeming to me to be a clearer and clearer truth. The wind on the water, here in my home. The wind on the fire in California, of course, where yesterday the number of missing people jumped to over 1,000. The waves breaking against rock and the way earthquakes cause tsunamis. It’s in the text I’m speaking every day, and it’s happening just outside our rehearsal room window.

This week we started putting the show on its feet and discovered that I know more of it than I expected to – and then we discovered that we didn’t want to work with book in hand. So we spent a lot of time getting me off-book and then standing me up immediately. Every rehearsal day begins with a very thorough physical and vocal warm up and a period of time for me to spend in mask work. I am extremely lucky to be in a process where this is part of my rehearsal day, and not homework, which means that I can rest after rehearsal and put the show away for a few hours before bed. The overall benefit to my health is very clear, just from being able to take a real break.

Yesterday afternoon we were able to do a full off-book stumble through for most of the team, which is a pretty great way to cap off a good week of work. We have a day of rest, today, and then one more week of studio work before we move into the theatre. The elements are doing snow and fog today: a tiny respite from the wind, perhaps, so we can take a few deep, calm breaths before we dive back in.

fire-snow-e1542460037426.jpg

Original plays November 28-December 2. Tickets available here.

 

Rehearsing Original – week 1

Hello Internet, today is Friday, November 9th, and we’ve just finished the first week of rehearsal for Original.

A bit of background:

Orig (2)I’ve been working on Original for a few years now – it was a fledgling idea in the fall of 2016 when the call for proposals came out from the Arts & Culture Centre’s Playwright-in-Residence program for a playwrights’ unit. I was on tour at the time with woman, naked, a play written and performed by Berni Stapleton which was playing in Saint John, NB for a week’s run. I had a few pages written then, and I ran them by Berni in our little efficiency unit. With her encouragement, I applied to the unit and got in, and then had the incredibly valuable experience of working in the unit with Playwright in Residence Megan Coles and 7 other fantastic playwrights. Most of Original was written between November 2016 and June 2017, with some gentle kicks in the butt from Meg and a lot of encouragement and support from my unit colleagues. (Sidenote: Andrea Cooper’s Room for a Pony and Marie Jones & Patrick Foran’s Her Closely were also projects in that unit, so it was a great room to be in!) The unit culminated in a table read workshop where I was lucky to have actors Nicole Rousseau, Kimberley Drake and Laura Huckle play the women. An excerpt was read publicly for the first time in June 2017.

22281673_1028761330599491_93715490796623657_n (2017_10_07 18_17_13 UTC)

In the middle of that process, PerSIStence Theatre announced their existence, and I went straight to Artistic Director Jenn Deon with this play. Jenn’s excitement, and that of the PerSIStence board of directors, is to thank for the momentum that has brought us here. In October 2017, PerSIStence and skc originals put together a one-week workshop and staged reading of the script, which you can read about here. And PerSIStence has programmed Original to open their second season… which brings us to now.

So, first thing’s first: LOOK AT THIS GROUP OF AMAZING WOMEN!

Production community

This photo was shamelessly stolen from the PerSIStence Facebook page.

Clockwise from my blinking face: Kathryn Burke, sound designer; Berni Stapleton, director; Diana Daly, production designer; Melanie Ozon, costume build; Emily Austin, production manager; and Jaimie Tait, stage manager. Absent from the photo (because she is behind the camera) is Jenn Deon, producer.

This is what Jenn calls our “production community,” and I love them. They are incredible and brilliant and their enthusiasm and ideas for this little solo show are inspired and inspiring. It’s going to look and sound amazing because of them. There’s going to be fire and wind and water and beach rocks and light and it’s all going to be beautiful.

On day 1 of rehearsal, Jenn walked us through PerSIStence’s Respectful Workplace Policy, which I am linking here because every theatre company should have one. And also because it’s on their website because they, too, believe that every theatre company should have one of these documents. Then we had a bit of a design show and tell, complete with costume sketches (!!) and set drawings (!!!) and a full read. I love my production community so much!

Day 2 was special because we had Sara Tilley come in to help me with some movement work. Sara is a wonderful human and artist and an incredible resource to have for a project like this where one person is playing multiple characters. Sara was on the workshop in October as dramaturge, and I can’t imagine doing the production without her. She brought in her neutral mask and we explored the elements I have assigned to each character: Embla is earth (or, since it’s quite hard to move like earth, she’s a tree), Eve is water, and Pandora is fire. If you don’t know about neutral mask, and are interested, you can read a little about it here. The work that Sara and I did on Tuesday has been enormously influential in developing the three characters separately from each other in body and voice. Neutral mask is magic and I wish I could do it every day of my life. But, lucky for me, Sara kindly loaned me a mask to use until the end of this process, so I get a month of it!

Neutral Mask screenshot

This is a still from a video Sara took so that I can watch my alien self move around.

Days 3 and 4 were mostly table work – reading through the play and talking about it, Berni giving me notes on the readings – with physical check ins in the form of mask work for me and yoga for all three of us – Berni, Jaimie and I. (Do you know Move with Melanie? You should.) This work was excellent and valuable but doesn’t take great photos. At least nothing as great as…

Day 5: the beach

Because the play centres around a beach, today we (Berni, Jaimie, Diana & I) took a field trip to Middle Cove Beach to do a bit of exploring. It was a beautiful day for it – not too cold, blue, and the elements were right there with us.

20181109_104458

I mean… hideous, right?

We walked around on the rocks and listened to the waves – not just the crashing in, but the tumbling of the rocks as they pull out again – and we breathed in the wind and we found a sunny patch of ground, and then we sat down on camp chairs and I read a bit from the play. The text of Original comes back again and again to the elements we explored in neutral mask – earth, fire, water – and reading it aloud, informed by the work I had done with Sara and by our wild beautiful surroundings, was an incredible experience.

When it got a bit cold, we stopped the reading, but we took the opportunity to pull up a few pieces of seaweed and beach junk for the set (I’m telling you, it’s going to be beautiful), and drove back into town.

20181109_104913

Our job is the best job.

When we returned to the Arts & Culture Centre for our afternoon’s work, the elements gave us an extra little end-of-week gift: a rainbow.

20181109_131215

 

Original is made possible by a grant from the City of St. John’s, as well as the generous supporters of PerSIStence Theatre Company. It runs November 28-December 2 at the LSPU Hall.

Some thankfulness

Hello, Internet, today is Wednesday, October 11th, the week after Thanksgiving, and I have some thanks to dole out.

From September 27th to October 2nd, skc originals had the opportunity to co-produce a workshop of a work in progress with brand new feminist theatre company Persistence Theatre. Persistence has just leapt onto the scene with an inaugural production of Robert Chafe’s Isle of Demons, which opened September 27th and ran until October 1st, so it was a busy week for them!

Persistence Theatre’s mission is feminist: they are working to promote the core beliefs of feminism through theatre. When Artistic Director Jenn Deon announced their mandate in January, I wrote her right away with original. I gave her a draft – a far cry from a full one, or a ready one, or anything even really resembling an actual script… but she believed in it anyway, and agreed to help me to produce a workshop and staged reading. Their fundraising efforts are nothing short of Herculean. (We need a mythological Greek woman to analogize here… Athenian? No, that’s taken. Nikean. There, that’s the word now. After Nike, who was a goddess before she was a sneaker.) Thanks to them and their faith in this project, we were able to double my meager budget, making the workshop possible.

That original meager budget came from the City of St. John’s, so much thanks to them as well. They get an bonus “thank you” for allowing me to spend their money on St. John’s artists, working in St. John’s venues, but with the staged reading taking place in Mt. Pearl because, well, good space is hard to find, and there is a GREAT space called The Annex behind Admiralty House Museum. Speaking of that, thanks also belong to the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl for arranging for us to be in The Annex for the reading, and to Business and Arts NL and the St. John’s Arts & Culture Centre for giving us rooms to work in as we prepared.

It must also be said that the piece may not even have reached Jenn and Persistence’s receptive arms without the Arts & Culture Centre Playwright’s Unit, in which I was fortunate to participate from October 2016 to June 2017.

With Berni (left) and Sara after the reading

And of course, I have to thank the incredible artists who saw this workshop through: Willow Kean, Berni Stapleton, and Sara Tilley are wonderful, generous artists and women who immediately got behind the project and my vision for it. It is a direct result of their thoughts and support that the script took a huge stride forward in the 6 days of the workshop.

So, thanks to all of those amazing people. And the people who came to see me read my thing. And all the people who support my writing in general, and my playwriting in particular. Watch for original in Peristence Theatre’s 2018-19 season!

Sharon

An anniversary

Hello, Internet, today is Wednesday, August 9th, 2017, and 10 years ago today, I lost one of my very best friends to suicide.

The man who left my life – and the lives of so many others who loved him – suffered from a severe mental illness. There were, I believe, a number of other factors in his decision to end his life, but difficulty in accessing mental health care, and his need to keep the whole thing a secret, were the main players.

The early drafts of Give Me Back were an exorcism of my grief. As anyone who was with me in the development stages of the play can tell you, I couldn’t get through a session without crying. In 2012 – 5 years after the fact – we held a 3-day workshop of the play and I cried every day. I wrote new pages with tears streaming down my face. My dramaturge (who was marvelous) assured my readers, on my behalf, that my weeping was not about the notes they were offering me, and assured me that my emotional connection to the play was a strength and not a weakness.

Still, working on Give Me Back carries with it an emotional burden that regularly flattens me. Delivering this show to audiences is one of my very favourite things to do, but it drops my personal productivity down to almost nothing. Laundry does not get done. Dishes do not get washed. I require far more sleep every night and at least one nap in the day. I eat from stress, or I don’t eat at all. This is why, sometimes, I need to push it onto the back burner (or farther back, maybe even into the fridge to be dealt with in a few weeks or months). This is very likely why it took me 7 years to mount it at all.

In Give Me Back, Anna and Jonathan have this conversation by phone:

ANNA: It’s not depression, is it?
JONATHAN: What?
ANNA: It’s not depression. You have something else.
JONATHAN: No.
ANNA: Yes you do.
[…]
ANNA: Do you have schizophrenia?
Silence.
JONATHAN: That’s what they’re treating.

That interchange is an almost exact transcription from life. I was in a introductory psychology class at university and I figured it out, and then I asked. That’s how I found out. Most other people in his life, even the ones he trusted most, thought he had a depressive disorder.

After his death, I discovered just how rare the knowledge of his actual diagnosis was: his best friend had no idea, and years later I found out his brother didn’t know.

Sometimes I tell this story in Give Me Back talkback, and during this latest trip to Twillingate and New World Island (communities mourning a very recent death by suicide), I felt it again for the hundredth time: not being able to tell anyone about one of the most important parts of your life is isolating. And, separately, mental illness is isolating. And all research points to there being huge mental health benefits to having strong social supports, but if these two factors are constantly isolating you, maintaining social supports is difficult.

We, the average non-doctor, non-researcher, can’t do very much about the isolation resulting directly from mental illness (although, we can ask our elected officials to dedicate resources to effective mental health treatment, and we should, every day… more on that later). But we can do something about the stigma.

Things are changing. We no longer whisper the names of mental health care facilities in case someone might hear. Large corporations have made stigma-busting part of their ongoing marketing campaigns. But there is a long way to go.

In any given year, 1 out of every 5 Canadians will personally deal with a mental health problem. 20% of us… each year. Every single person in this country will be affected directly or indirectly by mental illness. That’s too many people not to be talking about it.

So, today, 10 years of real progress later, I would like to make a request: if it within your capacity to do something to make the world better for those struggling with their mental health, do it today. Right now, as soon as you read this.

Some suggestions:

  1. Write a letter to your MP or provincial representative. Find out their official policy on mental health and press them to improve it or act on it.
  2. Make a donation to the Canadian Mental Health Association, which works throughout Canadian communities to build and distribute mental health supports and resources.
  3. Reach out to somebody you know who is feeling a bit down recently, and just say hi. Not “hey, I was just wondering how your mental health was,” but just “hi.” Maybe “how are you?” Work today to make yourself a trustworthy, supportive, nonjudgmental friend.

Go! Make the world better. In memory of a person I was lucky to know, and who I wish many more people could have known. Please.

Thank you.

J. M. Olds Collegiate

Hello Internet, today is Friday, June 2nd, and yesterday we did two awesome shows at J. M. Olds Collegiate in Twillingate.

31May3

Such a handsome show.

Up and at’em first thing, we rolled into the school for a show at 9am. About 100 students poured in a few minutes after the first bell rang, and they were a totally lovely audience. Talk back was a quiet, but a few members of the drama club and some teachers stuck around after everyone was dismissed to chat with us afterwards. They were keen to see the boxes (every theatre enthusiast loves a good set made of boxes) and we wound up having quite a discussion about schizophrenia, the onset, the possible causes, the triggers, and the true story that the play is based on.

1June1

Our school audience

Then we had 8 hours before the next show, so we went on a few adventures.

First, we went looking for a lighthouse, since we’d been told that it offered a good panoramic. We found it eventually, but not before we stopped at another point just to have a look.

1June2

The ladies looking touristy

The pack ice apparently goes out 40 miles, and the folks who live here are pretty tired of it, but I can tell you that I have about a dozen pictures of the ocean covered in ice.

1June4

Here is one of those pictures.

We did find the lighthouse, after, and took a bunch of photos of ice there, too. We were promised a panorama and were not disappointed.

1June9

A photo carefully chosen out of quite a selection on my phone

The lighthouse site is also home to a fudgery/gift shop, so obviously we had to go in. My peanut allergy kept me away from the homemade fudge, but there were a few pieces of fudge bought, and I did find an incredible Christmas ornament that needed documenting.

1June11

This, friends, is Santa and a puffin wearing a Christmas hat. They are riding a humpback whale. Merry Christmas!

Having reached the end of the road in one direction, we drove back the other way to continue our adventure. We thought we might go to Morton’s Harbour so that we could say we’d been “all around the circle,” but it turns out that MH is more than an hour’s drive from Twillingate, so we turned back to explore Twillingate some more.

Passing J. M. Olds again, I made the team get out and have a picture taken with the sign promoting the evening’s public performance.

1June12

They were good sports about it.

The road not yet taken was the road to the Auk Island Winery, and although we couldn’t partake of the wine before the next show, we were drawn inside by the promise of wine-flavoured soft serve. There were two flavours available yesterday: Moose Juice (blueberry/partridgeberry) and Krooked Cod (blueberry/raspberry), and we tried both of them. By way of review, I would say that I would eat Moose Juice-flavoured ice cream again.

Evan had the vanilla, but he lucked into two cones which gave us the opportunity to take this photo:

1June16

Life’s not bad, hey b’y

After returning to the motel for some downtime, we returned to the school to set up for our evening performance. The organizers were hoping for 50 people, but about 120 turned out to see the show!

We have been blown away by our incredible experience at J. M. Olds and are so grateful to have had the opportunity to play for the audience here and to chat with them about mental health.

1June22

This is what it looks like when 120 adults come to see a play about mental health in a school gym. In case you were wondering.

We have one more performance today at New World Island Academy, about half an hour from Twillingate.

Ready to go!

Hello Internet, today is Wednesday, May 31st, and we are ready to go in Twillingate!

After two great days of rehearsal in St. John’s, we got up this morning, picked up the van, picked up some rentals, picked up each other and a few changes of clothes and drove ourselves to Twillingate.

31May1

On the road again!

The van was skillfully packed by our pal BK this morning, so the challenge is on: can we remember how he fit it all in when we have to pack it all up again? Only time will tell.

With a quick stop in Gander to pick up some stage weights (thanks to Brian and Claude of the Gander Arts & Culture Centre!) and eat some long-awaited lunch, we headed up the Gander Bay Highway and started to just… marvel. The pack ice hasn’t fully unpacked itself up here and there are pieces floating in close to the shore all over the place. We didn’t get out of the car to take pictures, but there are some walks planned for tomorrow between shows.

We checked in to our digs (a brand new motel that still smells like fresh paint) and headed to J. M. Olds Collegiate to set up the gear.

31May2

Go Tigers!

I love how our little play looks so at home in school gyms. I love it so much.

I had a chance to shake hands with teacher Melissa Blackler and health worker Allison Vincent, who were so instrumental in bringing us here, and then Evan, Laura, Crystal and I collectively remembered which bits go where and how all the pieces go together.

31May4

I think the curtains set the paw prints off quite nicely!

Once the set up was done, we took the opportunity to run through the transitions, and were headed back to our digs, which are conveniently attached to a lounge that serves food until midnight, but we had to stop to take some pictures, because this is where we are right now:

31May5

9pm, May 31, 2017, Twillingate

Not a bad way to end a full day of doing this thing we love.

Give Me Back is Back

Hello Internet! Today is Friday, May 26th, and we’re getting the band back together!

Through no small effort from pals at the Notre Dame Bay Memorial Health Centre, we are headed to Twillingate next week for a tiny, 3-show tour!

June 1, 9AM: J. M. Olds Collegiate

June 1, 7PM: J. M. Olds Collegiate – open to the public!

June 2, 1PM: NWI Academy

We are so grateful for the chance to come together again!

In preparation for this tiny tour, our boxes needed a bit of love (upside of a cardboard set: super-portable; downside of a cardboard set: wears with age), and we had to rebuild some lids. Our amazing set designer, Mark, just became a new dad and wasn’t up to painstakingly cutting out and folding cardboard, so we were super lucky to have the help of some students from Holy Heart of Mary High School!

Kat boxes

Producer Kat is one with the boxes – pre awesome student help. Photo by Gemma Hickey

All the lids

2.5 hours of work by 4 amazing students later – look at all the lids! Photo by Kathryn Burke

We are also benefiting from an amazing program by Business & Arts NL, which has found a pop-up art space and is loaning it out to the art-making folks of St. John’s FOR FREE – allowing us to rehearse all day Monday and Tuesday in the same location! (If you have never produced a play where you were borrowing spaces and routinely had to load in at the beginning of every rehearsal and load out at the end of every rehearsal, it is not easy to comprehend the extreme luxury of being able to come back to the same place, leave things there, etc. So you will have to trust me. It is an Extreme Luxury.)

We are so lucky to have this opportunity, and to pull in so much help from our amazing community to bring this little play to the folks who want to see it.

We’ll keep you posted as we gear up next week! Give Me Back is back, baby!

#givemebackisback

Clarenville – Eastlink Event Centre

Hello Internet, today is Saturday, March 19th, and on Thursday, we had our closing performance at Clarenville’s Eastlink Event Centre.

Cville Centre

Prepping for focus.

About 250 students and teachers poured into the theatre to see the show, bringing our tour total to an estimate audience of 1870! We had 4 health workers join us for talk back afterwards, and we were asked some brand new questions, including what sort of treatments were available for mental illness and what drives Anna to make the choices she makes. What a neat feeling it is to be thinking on my feet on the final day!

Cville psych

Evan in the spotlight.

Yesterday, we packed up the cars and came home. After some running around and returning rental equipment and the van, all that’s left to do is to run a few numbers and write a few reports… and to write back a few folks who have expressed some very real interest in having the show tour to their region!

Although there has been a huge focus on mental health throughout this project, we are proud of Give Me Back for what it is by itself: a piece of theatre. We owe a lot to the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union, who came on board to sponsor the tour and who regularly support art & culture in Newfoundland and Labrador; and to the Canada Council for the Arts, which invests in artistic work nation-wide.

As Laura said to me a few days ago, there is always a sense, when we come to the end of a Give Me Back project, that it isn’t the end. The song in her head that day was:

We’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again one sunny day…