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Why Theatre? Revisited, II of II

February 25th, 2011 No comments

I’ve explored corners of an emerging field (applied theatre/drama) that in highschool, one couldn’t even imagine would exist. That is just three years before I would be a student of it.  Like pioneers to a new land, it has been an arduous process of studying and cultivating the rugged terrain as an applied theatre practitioner.  A process probably made more difficult by my stubbornness, insecurities and expectations (a.k.a. impatience); all very limiting to a process of cultivating a creative style, learning to teach while honouring my own unique voice amongst the expert opinions.  This privileged challenge of navigating unchartered career waters has been made possible by my having participated in drama, acting, musical theatre, recreational dance, and music/band classes in my teen years, when forming a sense of self is the only thing that is of any true significance.

The arts activities that engage and develop the right-brained abilities such as harmony, aesthetic, metaphor, story, and design, are traditionally considered to be fringe benefits in the schools referred to, in this cleverly animated talk.  Now, we are in the dawn of an era that demands more of the right-brain aptitudes, demonstrated in the highest grossing industries such as culinary arts, cosmetics and fashion, but mostly by the degree of problem-solving our world requires for our survival!  I agree that the ARTS professions, and therefore our civilizations, have not been served by the industrial era’s school system in a manner that is sustainable.  Seems obvious now that we also recognize that the industrialization of production and consumption are no longer sustainable.  I feel so passionate about opening up the creative channels in our schools and workplaces that I could probably obsess about it for years to come!  So for the sake of getting through this blog post, I’ll curb my enthusiasm here to introduce you to the third inspiring video of my day that re-affirms why I choose theatre and dramatic arts over and over, wherever I end up, doing whatever it is I do.

Sir Ken Robinson, a visionary on education and creativity follows his 2006 TED talk with this witty talk about a learning revolution; the waves of which, led me to study drama therapy at New York University in 1999.

What Sir Robinson refers to is a revolution that has been a few decades already underway, beginning with a few enlightened masters; their efforts often ignored, resisted and belittled by many.  The movement to change how we teach children persists in as many ways as are needed to serve the diversity of the many ways that humans learn.  I hope you enjoyed these videos as much as I have enjoyed reflecting upon them and posting here.

A deeply heartfelt-appreciating hug to all my teachers who inspired me to question, seek, express and grow!  And thanks for visiting my online playground!

Scene + Heard in the Snow

February 25th, 2011 No comments

When I arrived at Vancouver Island’s Swartz Bay Tuesday evening, I was greeted with bone chilling wind and millions of big fluffy snowflakes.  I took the public transit bus into town which takes an hour of meandering through the countryside of Sidney before getting close to Saanich, where I stay when I visit.  By the time I had arrived at the house, the snowflakes were teeny tiny and not nearly as flurious as they were an hour before.  I expected any signs of snow would be gone in the morning.

To my delight, I woke up to find beautiful snow blanketing the tree branches outside the bedroom window, and more was on its way!  I love snow; I think more now than ever, since we rarely get any in Victoria that stays for longer than a few hours.  The rain usually follows quickly and washes it all away.  All my activities were canceled that day due to the snow.   Because I grew up in Kitimat where snow could pile up to 4 feet overnight and we’d still be expected to show up for school on time, I don’t understand this business of canceling and shutting down over a foot of snow.

So it is particularly noteworthy when people show up to attend our dress rehearsal while most would use the weather as an excuse not to.  What a splendid way to spend a cold snowy night; tucked into a comfy chair in a warm dimly lit theatre being wrapped in stories and music.  Join us this Friday night at 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm or Sunday 8pm.  Tickets can be purchased at Lyle’s Place in advance or at the door 30 minutes before show times.  Metro Theatre is on the corner of Johnson and Quadra, next to the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

Happy Valentine’s Song

February 14th, 2011 No comments

I dedicate this song with hand-drawn animation to the Valentine I’m moving towards, but haven’t met yet.  I move slowly, thanks for your patience!  I don’t know how I manage it, but I’ll  Save You for Last

Hilary Grist is a great singer/songwriter.  Her vocal sound is creamy warm and smooth (but not dairy creamy..the almond milk nutritious variation!)

Thanks for visiting!

Why Theatre? Revisited, I of II

February 1st, 2011 No comments

Today, through my facebook news feed, the question was posted, “Why do theatre?”  To people who have yet to experience the joy of analyzing the great many benefits for human development and cognition that theatre offers, I can appreciate that the answer to that question is not obvious.  At a time when much of the world is habitually turning to screens of all sizes for their information and communication needs for convenience, novelty or cost-effectiveness, it seems far easier to list reasons of why not to do theatre.

Theatre, in the most common of professional forms, is costly to produce, promote and limited for reproducing beyond the run of live shows, thereby limited for potential revenue.  And so came film.  I get it.  Why, indeed?  Sometimes, I am persuaded to focus on other forms of “work” by their mere practicality in the current economic climate.  Then comes along a day like today when I come across this question, “Why Theatre?”, followed by lunch with a friend and three different, but related videos.  The first one below started my morning after breakfast; posted by a theatre colleague, it had me laughing out loud!

Can you relate?  I could!   And not because I identify as having a disorder or being of the elderly demographic, but because in particular states of mind, I have experienced this unstoppable stream of linked, but seemingly disorganized thoughts and impulses that I act upon, taking me from one incomplete task to start another activity that is interrupted by a thought which brings me into another frame of focus, and so on.  Sometimes, I do return back to my initial activity, but it is highly problematic for productivity in the workforce, when I don’t.  And it seems that many many people, often creatives and innovators are often misplaced, misunderstood and highly undervalued in most workplaces and schools.  What is interesting is that others who have shared a similar experience also exhibit a great tendency – nay, an insuppressible drive for artistic expression that is as strong as the “ADD” behaviour.   Perhaps they are connected to, or inform each other.   I’m not of the opinion, however, that they are exclusive to each other, nor do I buy the claim that there is an epidemic.  If you keep reading and watch the second video in this post, you may further understand why I go on to say here that it is the larger societal structures ie. schools, laws, medicine, that are not evolving, or tranforming, at a rate which supports the human response to what is current and true.

After watching that video in the morning, I spent most of the afternoon becoming re-acquainted with a friend who is on her way towards a medical residency in plastic surgery. We had a delicious meal of Peruvian and South American delights at El Inka Latin Deli in Burnaby.   She shared her stories of a new romance and I, my recurring considerations on taking up filmmaking courses. With the fear of abandoning the riches of my formal training in applied drama and theatre, despite little monetary riches to show for it, I have been reluctant to pursue any further training that diverges from the applied theatre path.

Insightfully, Brandi points out that documentary filmmaking, the genre to which I currently feel drawn, would be bringing together all the previous training I’ve had and incorporate other pleasures of researching, writing, and collaborating with a diversity of people.  I go home with a very satisfied tummy and a full head of questions: Maybe I can still practice theatre and develop my film-making skills in a parallel and complimentary way?  It’s another art form, can I pay the bills with it?  Is it the accessibility of the medium that is my block, or my own internal maze of questions that lead to inaction?  Perhaps what my artistic voice is trying to manifest is a hybrid of these mediums.  Hybridity.  It’s how I’m made! No surprise I would fuse play with work, live performance with digital.  And my friends often check-in with the curious, “Janice, what are you up to now?” It seems adventurous, I suppose, to the observer, but it has largely been frustrating because it’s taken me yeeears, a full decade after finishing 7 years of higher education, to realize the fuller scope of my heart’s desires.  What did I expect?  Well, I’m impatient.

What do you mean, it’s not about me?!

January 31st, 2011 No comments

I am often alarmingly surprised to discover how little people are thinking of others, most of all, me!

Learning to be a great dance partner is about paying attention to another person; receiving and responding. Dancing could save our lives!

Voice is my Weapon of Choice

January 19th, 2011 No comments

Here’s a little something to dance to…a video with FatBoy Slim & Christopher Walken.

If fear of public expression could some how be turned off for the duration of a song, for certain we would have people breaking out into song and dance in all sorts of contagious ways; on buses and trains, in locker rooms (naked) and board rooms, in elevators, at stop signs, in traffic and line-ups in general to anything and anywhere!

What a wonderful world that would be!

Every Thursday evening I attend a community choir practice at the SFU Woodwards/Portland Hotel Society building on West Hastings in Vancouver. It’s good fun with conductor, Vanessa Richards, leading us through songs that range from Negro spirituals to folk lullabies to Paul Simon. Join us!

If our location and time don’t work for you, I encourage you to use your voice as a weapon of choice to slash through the obstacles that stimulate fear, both internal and external. Find a community choir near you or if that’s too public for now, try singing in the shower, while cooking dinner, waiting for the stop light to turn green.

Fear grows in silence and darkness and your voice has the power to illuminate and resonate. Let it do so to inspire joy and peace. Our world needs more of it.

Poke me, for real!

September 13th, 2009 No comments

I was just scrolling my facebook home page where it highlights all the status postings of my facebook friends. While I appreciated the updates on people’s thoughts and happenings, I recognized a sad truth: I am content to read about friends on facebook without participating much beyond being witness. And likely, many more months and years will pass in which I will miss having any direct human connection with some of these friends. Does that kind of engagement still qualify as “friend” in the way that I want “friend” to be? I’ll speak now to another experience today that seems unrelated but will explain later.

This afternoon I was engaged in a very impassioned conversation with a friend and fellow artist about the state of the arts in Vancouver. This friend of mine, I’ll refer to her here as Tina, meets all sorts of people as a temp administrator in corporate offices and many of them claim not to know where to look to find arts and culture events in Vancouver. I speculated that those were excuses from people who simply had not made the effort to find out. Tina replied, “No, there was a person I worked with that had not ever heard about the Georgia Straight!” I find that difficult to believe, but then all I have to do is put myself into the lifestyle of someone whose priorities are focused on many other things other than the arts and I understand. In this diverse rich city of Vancouver, there are many options: hockey, outdoor sports, casinos, pubs, over-time at the office, outdoor sports, casinos, hockey! Being one whose career has revolved around the Arts, it’s a great challenge to imagine a lifestyle that does not involve being a patron of dance, music, theatre, museums and galleries. It’s a challenge to imagine it and more sad that there are many for whom, this is reality. Why do we not get excited about the theatre and other live performing arts in B.C. the way we get behind beer and hockey?! Again, here I’ll travel a little off the current…

I just attended the live tv recording of the Canadian Country Music Awards at GM Place and while yes, many more were able to view it at home on their televisions, there is nothing that will ever replace the experience of witnessing a live performance. Social online medias, tv, films, video recordings on mobile phones, even video conferencing; while all are extremely valuable and create opportunities to communicate at much higher rates of efficiency than a knock on the door or stage productions, they will never satisfy a basic human desire to be present with each other live! Eye to eye, voice to ear, hand to hand, energetic human vibrations!

As I’ve written this, I am in awe of the space that we have in this world via the internet and this website, to give voice to our thoughts. That is something incredibly powerful and amazing that humans have created this ability to access ideas, thoughts, images and sounds globally, instantaneously. And the results of my words getting out into cyberspace, I cannot control nor fully know. And yet, it feels lonely still. Sure, one can reach a potentially wider audience using a television broadcast, making a film or adding faces on facebook, but when I look back on the experiences of my day, it was all the person to person experiences that were the most satisfying. When I sat in a venue filled with thousands of enthusiastic people cheering for the accomplishments of artists, when I sat across the table from a friend smiling and sharing stories over dinner, when I could hug my friend who made it possible for me to attend the music awards, and yell and poke his arm (not a facebook poke!) with excitement when my favourite artist came on to perform, these are moments unsurpassed and irreplaceable by technologies.

And so what was all this to express? Well, I guess I’m just reflecting upon the development of a habit to be passive when so much of technology affords us the convenience to be so. It is so easy not to make the effort to look someone in the eye because there is a text message to answer, or to gather with community, friends and family because facebook just updates us anyway, to go to live theatre because cable comes right into the home. I am reminding myself to spend time in-person and be present with people and places and other living creatures that I care for as often as I can, Today! The technology is meant to facilitate it, not give an excuse or distraction not to! Today was a nice balance.

Going Solo

May 28th, 2008 No comments

I saw the most incredibly bold and inspiring solo production of Hamlet last night at the Uno festival in Victoria.

I can’t think of anything more artistically frightening and challenging than performing a solo show, except performing a solo show of the greatest play by the most brilliant playwright.  Raoul Bhaneja performed it like a poetic warrior.  Amazing!

It was just the thing I needed to see, while I’m in process of writing my own solo peice.  I’m realizing that even though I no longer work with a mining company, I still maintain the business of digging for gold; the literary variation.  I’m taking myself places I thought I’ve been to before, places I didn’t know existed, and places I dare not return to, all the while making new discoveries and coming upon deeper understandings of my humanity.  I’m transitioning now from a phase of thinking,  ‘Who is going to care about witnessing this story?” to “Hey, this is my story.  I wonder what would happen if I told it.”

I’m so thankful to Intrepid Theatre for putting on the Uno Festival and giving our island community another opportunity to share in the beautiful art of storytelling.  Check out the shows at the Uno Festival!

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Courage to create

March 31st, 2008 No comments

I hear a cello and a piano being played either next door or in the apartment below. I like it. I’m in the midst of writing a solo show based on my immigrant experience and it’s a lonely process and quiet. Hearing the people practice their instruments feels like I’m not alone as an artist.

The courage to create art, in any medium, is the courage to be alone. An artist must be alone to be intimate with one’s Self to be authentic in giving voice to one’s stories authentically. Authenticity and presence of Spirit in art is rare, but when it’s there, it’s magical and speaks universal truths about humanity.

What I am beginning to learn in a deep way, is that my own personal truth of my experiences is connected to others by our humanity. Fear, anger, joy, sadness, these are all universal human experiences of emotion and no matter what the context, we can relate to each other when we see them demonstrated. But there is so often confusion, for how I demonstrate and communicate an emotion does not control how others will interpret what I say or show, and so we do not always understand nor do we feel understood, even when we think we are.

Bridging this gap of understanding is where I find my purpose and work. When we engage in creative expression through the arts, we abstract our emotions, thoughts and experiences into symbols, metaphors, stories, sounds, gestures – a multitude of layers and options for pathways into understanding the creator’s point of view. On some level, when we create something of our own design, we know this and it can trigger fears around being public about the parts of ourselves we have not yet come to appreciate or acknowledge. What I think is so great to acknowledge is that hiding something, or the avoidance of sharing who we are authentically, does not change the fact that we are who we are.

If I write a story, and it has a bunch of spelling errors in it, I can choose to share the story for it’s worth, or I can fear the judgement of the spelling errors and withhold the story completely. One option takes the risk of exposure to criticism but creates the opportunity for growth, and one does not risk exposure but guarantees failure. Neither of these choices changes the quality of the creation, but choosing to be public and get feedback creates opportunity to improve.

It’s hardwork looking at one’s ‘less than ideal’ choices, but only if we attach a meaning about it to our self worth. That’ s where the courage to create really is the courage to live life to the fullest. That’s why I believe in creative practice and commit much of my time to make space for them in the world.  It’s about evolving our humanity, starting with one’s Self.

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A week of Smukler

February 16th, 2008 No comments

Aaaahhhh. MMMmmmm…Ma Ma Ma Ma….Hhhhhhh. These are the sounds that filled my evenings this past week. Each night after a full day of sitting at a desk, it was so satisfying to relax into breathing and sighing with other actors, artists, and teachers. Since I took the voice intensive almost 2 years ago in 2006, I return annually to David Smukler’s tune-ups. We work with shakespeare text and his technique, originating from Kristin Linklater, is incredibly powerful and precise. It really an experience that opens the voice in a way that is transforming.

I’m so grateful for having learned of the National Voice Intensive and of David Smukler. My voice is more resonant and present than it was 5 days ago and I’ve gained a deeper wisdom about my body and how it contains emotions and thoughts. An extraordinary journey for any actor, teacher…human.