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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Ubiquitous End of Year Post... My Year in Review

2011 Here it goes. For more detail, of course, you can flip through the whole Blog, but I know that I wrote more sparsely at different times of the year and sometimes my writing was motivated more by the emotional state of my life than the actual events. So a look back seems to bring out the significance in what happened this year.

Theatrical Events:
It was busy in 2011. The first half of the year I wrapped up my tenure as AD of Walterdale. I started the season knee-deep in Rabbit Hole and I think that will always be one of the most satisfying directorial experiences of my life. I had challenges that fed my personal needs. I had a terrific cast, production team and crew. I had to make some tough decisions. I had a script that I really wanted to serve and I think I did that. I also complicated my life by overlapping rehearsals for that show with The Threepenny Opera. I enjoyed doing that show. It too had elements that really made me work. The music in that show was some of the most challenging I have ever sung. Like G & S, Weill is not in my wheelhouse, meaning I had to work. So many fabulous people and it was great to be onstage in the season. I confess, I was trying to find a way to do as much as I could before the end of my tenure. So that led into my first 'real' set design for Village of Idiots. I was more nervous about that than any acting or directing job I have ever done. I worked with the wonderful Linette Smith in a kind of full-circle sort of way (she directed Steel Magnolias which was my second show at Walterdale, but the one where I really knew I was home). The summer meant Fringe and this year I was so happy to re-visit and re-draft Pieces. I was thrilled with the response form both critics and audiences. I can tell you quite honestly that the sounds of sniffling audiences makes me very happy. I also really enjoyed working with my cast and Team. The luxury of doing your own Fringe show is picking the people you want to work with. I was happy with our picks. I was also happy with the new draft as I felt that it was so much closer to the story I wanted to tell. Fall rolled into A Little Night Music at Festival Place. Another wonderful new family and the joy of singing Sondheim. And then I wrapped up the year as Master Painter for Wyrd Sisters at Walterdale. This was a fun challenge as I did not have my mentor, Joan, on hand so I had to solve the painting mystery myself and I also brought my kids on board to be my crew. Someday I see Gibson as having the potential to be an excellent set painter. Oliver might be too, if he gets paid, but I doubt he has the patience for detail work.

Educational Events:
I did Drama 209 first semester and Drama 257 second semester. Drama 209 is the second theatre history course at the U of A and you travel from just after Shakespeare to Ibsen. I really enjoyed it and find that aside from the essays I really love theatre history. Good thing I kick major butt on the exams! Drama 257 is scene study and while I really enjoyed the class, particularly my classmates, it really made me ask questions about what I was doing at University. I haven't fully answered this question but I was frustrated because although I enjoyed the course I didn't really learn anything I didn't already know. It did remind me that I was lazy about some of the character prep work that I could be doing. It also shook up my approach to objectives and tactics because I think I do them a lot more instinctively and less formally and really they are so useful, but it was more like a refresher course than an eye-opener. It is making me re-think my second semester choice. Outside of University I went to Playworks Ink in the Fall and for one very short weekend I was reminded of how much I love writing and how little time I put into it. I have so many plays I need to write. I need to make time for that writing. I don't. I need to.

Personal/Family/All the Rest:
* This year we said goodbye to Smeep, our beloved cat. This was very hard for me. She was a wonderful member of our family. I still expect her to greet me when I come home and the bumps and thumps in the night have no explanation any more. We had her longer than Oliver.
* Oliver and Gibson started basketball and for half a year it took over our lives. Well, mine anyhow. I have a better idea of how it works now and know that it means the Fall will be challenging for scheduling in other activities, but it has been very cool to watch Oliver grow as a player and start to think like a team player and an athlete.
*My cousin Margaret got married and I got to travel on my own to San Francisco/Berkley for a great family reunion - too short, as always.
* I taught my first (hopefully of many) Workshop By Request in Calmar. It was on Giving and Receiving Direction and I had so much fun with this wonderful group who have a fabulous attitude towards what they do.
* I did not gain weight, but I haven't really significantly lost any. This has to change. I am working on trying to streamline my life so that I am doing only the projects I want to do and therefore can have enough to be happy and not too much so that I can't work more on my physical shape. I just don't want that whole diet and fitness thing to take over my life. I think that would depress me and make me want to eat... I did lose 10 lbs in the last 10 weeks of 2011 and have a great support group online with my extended family. So hopefully I can continue this momentum into the new year. I am comfortable with 10 lbs in 10 weeks. It's not crazy. It's realistic.
* I did not write as much as I would have liked. This is also about time. I need to make the time for it. Pieces was a lovely opportunity and I do have a half a draft I was supposed to finish for December 15th to send to Daniel MacIvor. I need to finish that and do more. I must.

It's been a good year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Goodbye Smeep...

This past week we said goodbye to Smeep. She had a rough go of it the last 8-10 months. She was diagnosed with diabetes in late March/early April. We thought it was a urinary tract infection but it was a little more than that. We struggled at first with what turned out to be an over-prescription of insulin which led to 2 diabetic comas. When she had the second one she flat-lined at the vets. It was pretty bad. We got her level, but to be honest, we struggled with the routine of it. I lost confidence in my vet because of the insulin comas and after a pretty calm summer she declined again this Fall. We had Smeep for 12 years and she came into our family at a time when I was sad about some other things and she was truly my cat in many ways. She was a wonderful cat, never afraid to offer her belly up for a rub when a stranger came in the house. This December Smeep was featured in Today's Parent magazine (you can check the article out on page 64). I think she waited for her fame and then it was time to go. I will miss her.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A week in which I see two productions which use good strategies to overcome flawed scripts...

I wrapped up the term this past week and took advantage of the 'free-ness' to take in Wyrd Sisters at Walterdale and Fuddy Meers at the U of A. Both of these evenings were enjoyable but left me thinking. I find it's hard for me not to get somewhat analytical when watching theatre, no matter how hard I try to just be there in the audience.

I painted the set for Wyrd Sisters, but auditions for New Works and other commitments made it difficult for me to get to the show earlier in the run. I had read the play previously and knew it to be a good fit for Walterdale. That said, the script is somewhat flawed. I think, if you are a Pratchett aficionado you definitely would have less issues with the script that I did (in the same way as someone who has read The Pelican Brief can follow the movie better than someone who hasn't). So the first act has a lot of exposition that I worked hard to follow. That is all mixed up with Shakespearean references and a definite British humour that leads to general silliness. The second act, in contrast, whips along and no thinking is required! The production I felt did many great things to compensate for the weaknesses of the script - big choices, not being afraid to be ridiculous, & going for the cheap laughs - all those things helped. As well, phenomenal make-up and costumes and a bang-on set with special effects helped keep us firmly planted in the world. Best of all, my kids (7 & 10), not bothered by the need to know all the details like I was, had a wonderful time. They just went with it and proclaimed it "pretty hilarious"! Not a bad review!

Fuddy Meers had me similarly trying to understand the details in the first act. It was hard to believe that the play was written by David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote Rabbit Hole. The number of ridiculous details and gaping holes in the information in the first act, made it seem so very implausible. The second act, when things started to get filled in showed me a bit of the writing that I could connect to Rabbit Hole. It was an absurd little journey. This cast overcame the absurdity with 110% commitment physically, intellectually and emotionally. The brilliant momentum of the piece was maintained and even enhanced by the high energy scene changes. I cannot even explain the physical stuff... Oh to be able to jump on top of a fridge - believably! Most outstanding was Laura Metcalfe as Claire. It is her journey the audience goes on and as she seems to be entertained by it all in the first act, so are we, and as she becomes more and more disturbed by what she learns in the second act, so do we. A luminous performance.

Next I shall be taking in some of the snow globe festival. I will probably not be seeing a 'grown-up play' until the new year!

Monday, December 05, 2011

On Membership...

I am writing this post here instead of the Walterdale Blog because the following is my own thoughts on membership fees and although I believe it is in line with the official Walterdale policy, it is not coming from that organization. It is how I feel.

At a recent meeting we had a lengthy discussion about membership fees at Walterdale. It came out of wanting to have a consistent message going to our members about what that fee is for and what they would get out of it. The consistency in message is, I think, very important as there is miscommunication about the why of membership fees in the first place. I like that. It's good. Everyone gets the same message.

When I was AD, I attended the auditions and would give a little speech about the membership fee and what that gave and that everyone who was cast would be expected to get a membership. This came out of the fact that the first time I directed at Walterdale I had two cast members ask about getting paid after they were cast. I helped construct the audition form and I thought it was clear that Walterdale was a community theatre and therefore non-paid. As well, the audition form indicated that those cast would have to get memberships. It was on the paper in black and white and yet people didn't seem to see that. I started the audition introductory speeches as a way to make it totally clear to people that this was an expectation of doing a show at Walterdale. I didn't want any surprises. I know that my predecessor has continued this. And yet, we still get people balking at paying the fees. They argue that they are putting in a lot of time and that having to pay on top of this is not fair.

This makes me kind of angry... There was no attempt made to hide this requirement. It was clearly out there, in print and verbally delivered. It is an expectation for everyone who is part of the organization. It is not something we merely assess to the actors. I know people who are members who only work coffee bar. I know people who have been members for many years and haven't done a show in any capacity for most of those. The membership fee is about buying in to the community. It is about investing. You are not paying a person, you are paying for the luxury and benefit of working in the space and you are paying so that we can continue to do that for many years to come. People (primarily actors) complain that they are having to pay to work at Walterdale as though that money goes to someone else. It doesn't. It goes to the operating budget for the theatre. We are fortunate to receive grants and have casino money and that sort of thing, but we cannot assume that those funds will cover all our costs. The theatre itself is an older building and things come up that cost. We also want to be able to fund the productions to the extent that we produce them properly. We talked about not giving Comp Tickets to those without memberships and someone argued that those people still put in many hours... to which I say, I put in the hours AND paid the membership... should I get double the comps? No. It doesn't work that way. I could direct the show, paint the set, work front of house and be on the Board (I have done that), paid my membership and still only gotten my 2 comps. So what is really fair?

I guess I get most angry because some people act as though they should be exempt, as though what they are contributing is so valuable that they should not have to contribute, but as a paying member what that says to me is that they feel that I should have to pay for the honour of having them on our stage. That I should foot the bill for just being able be graced by their talent. I am sorry. I have put thousands of hours into Walterdale. I don't need to pay to hang out with them. I do the work to DO THE WORK. I think everyone with that attitude should have to read the Walterdale History book to see what a real contribution to our theatre is.

Again, this is my opinion. Pay your membership or don't, but don't think I will ever agree that you have a legitimate reason for not doing so.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Another Busy Week... Auditions, a Final Exam, 2 BBall games and a Funeral...

This week has been jam packed for me. The top end of the week has three nights of auditions for New Works. I am directing the lovely Bevin Dooley's script, The Playmates. Four directors settled down to watch 74 auditioners over three evenings. We saw so many good actors. At the end I had 11 possibilities for Clare, 8 possibilities for Rose and 4 possibilities for Edmund. It came down to schedules and who I thought would fit together best, but I think I have a nice solid cast (If I don't, after 74 auditioners I only have myself to blame!). The morning after auditions I went in early to have a final rehearsal with my group for my Drama 257 Final Presentation. It went well. We made some good choices in cutting the script to made the scene arc stronger and I felt good about my performance and the whole group's work. I think I did well.

Oliver had an added basketball practice on Thursday and then a game on Friday night and one first thing Saturday morning. Both games were tight with nice competitive play. Friday we were missing the head coach and 2 players. I think if he had been there we would've won the game. Saturday was very close with the lead going back and forth. We probably should've won, but the other team had enough for 3 lines whereas we only have 2 lines and I think that made the difference. Eight of our guys played the night before and you could see they were tired. However, Oliver got named Game Monster by the coach and got to bring home a ball for the week! He played really well in both games. He really started playing like an athlete and showed real intelligence on the court. That combined with his 'hugeness' (he is so tall compared to the other kids) made for some nice playing. It was cool to see him snatch the ball out of the air above the heads of the other kids.

However, this week Mark's best friend's father passed away. So, he headed down to Olds for the Wake on Saturday. That meant it was me and the boys. The snow came down so we were/are content to camp out inside. I made cupcakes last night and filled the house with the smell of chocolate cake. I attacked the huge pile of laundry and 4 loads later I finally have the last of it in the washing machine. At least when I leave it so long I can really sort colours! Ha ha ha! Classes end this week and I hope to get on top of the miasma that is the inside of my house. Christmas is coming and I am not ready!