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Future Dreams and Present Undertakings 

Good news for the Two Women. All of a sudden, it’s all set. We are going to the annual FEST (the Federation of European Storytellers) gathering in Rome in June and have then been invited to present The Book of Spells at the International Festival of Storytelling Raccontamiunastoria

in that ancient city. All this on top of also voyaging to England for a performance of The Book of Spells in Brighton along with a chance for me to present Who Wants the Dress? in Surrey and Sun Horse Moon Horse in Yorkshire. Trust me, more details will follow!

In the meanwhile, of course, we’re focusing on our upcoming 2wp performances of The Odyssey with Ottawa tellers Gail Anglin and Ellis Lynn Duschenes -- the close-out to our third full season. What a success this season’s been. One more spur to our desire to bring the best that storytelling can offer to an ever-widening range of audiences. Indeed, we even have plans for the “ever-widening” part. More to follow on that too.

For the four of us, coming back to The Odyssey is almost like coming home. It’s hard to believe but this great epic has been in our lives for almost twenty years now. How good it feels to speak once more of the wine dark sea and dawn with her rosy fingers; to bring to our listeners the terrible struggle to overcome the Cyclops, the delights of Circe, the ferocious battle Odysseus must take on to rid his home of Penelope’s suitors, the tender reunion the two share. That’s my section and I have always loved it for its humanness, its clear evocation of how difficult it is for two people to come together after long separation no matter how much they love each other; how much they have yearned for just this time. 

Work with other storytellers goes on too. I wrote a blog not so long ago about the frequent need to let go of ideas and phrases, structures and images we’d thought essential in the creation of some piece. This week brought us the opposite – a portion of a planned performance that had hit the cutting room floor but which now had to be re-instated; a portion which had moved from being a pleasant but unneeded diversion to becoming an absolute necessity.

How could that happen? It happened because it had to. Because originally that portion had been pushing the whole in some direction that left too much of what was going to be important out. The teller had to get rid of it so she herself could see more clearly what her story really is.

It might easily have happened that that portion needed to stay gone but, as the teller edged up on what she hadn’t even known she wanted to be saying and discovered the means to take hold of it, the piece began to find its true voice and shape. That shape called back what had had to be omitted. As I said before, the process of creation is a mystery, a fluidity, an ever-moving target. We simply cannot afford to forget that.

The news today is still all of the Boston Marathon. How could it possibly be anything else? I’m not exactly an athlete but I do know the joys of competing, the delights of being a spectator. I’ve lived with athletes. I know their commitment, the exhilaration the rest of us get from watching them give their all. The Olympics last summer were for me a lifeline in a hard time. I watched every minute I could manage, not just for the distraction but because the beauty of the body’s strength that was made so visible gave me a touch of faith in my own. I grieve for the hideous loss of all those who have suffered but also I grieve for the marring of this wondrous event. I think we need to let ourselves feel the pain before we give any thought to powers of healing. Feeling the pain is one more way of recognizing just what has been taken from us. 

Love to each and every, Jan



Adventures Old and New

Going to the Dominican was perfect. Warm sea, wind in the palm trees, snorkeling, strolling along the beaches, riding the waves in small boats. Coming back in a snowstorm made for just the right amount of exhilaration. And we’ve had more snow and I am reveling in it. Three cross country skis now – a grand boost to my morale.

The Toronto Storytelling Festival is coming up this weekend. Jennifer is working on a new piece about nineteenth century women who longed for the exotic, the adventurous, then went out to live their dreams. It’s a show that highlights the differences between us for, although I find it fascinating, it’s not something I would have been drawn to on my own account.

I do, however, see its importance for what these women really wanted was to reach higher, to go beyond the life that was prescribed for them. Also as I listen to the rehearsals I realize that when I was a kid all the adventurers I ever heard of were men. Women who risked and dared were usually mocked in some way or other, much as the suffragettes were – chaining themselves to railings, going on hunger strikes and other footling activities!

Once more, I’m reminded of the need to get all of the stories out there, especially the ones that call to us, the ones that are particularly ours to tell.

Right now, of course, The Odyssey is also calling to us again – the last show for the 2wp 2012/2013 season. As I began to work on some of the promos, it came as something of a shock to realize that Gail, Ellis Lynn, Jennifer and I have been working on this great epic now for almost twenty years. We have it in our souls.

Always when we come back to it, there’s a freshness; always a deep feeling of satisfaction and delight. Always it strikes a strong chord with our audiences. When I mentioned that The Odyssey was upcoming in my close-out remarks to Jan Gregory’s show, I heard little sighs of anticipation and saw faces light up all around.

Yes, this is very much a man’s story. But what a story. It seems to have all of everything within it. It’s such a human tale. I have never even come close to regretting that we took it on. The resonances are for all of us. I remember after one performance talking to two women about the terrible battle of homecoming – a gut wrenching event if ever there was one, no holds barred. “We don’t like it but we do have to admit, there will be a time of ruthlessness for all of us,” one of the women said to me. “Better to face it,” the other woman agreed.

Stories of men, stories of women – always so much to think about. Another of the great joys of our lives.


Off We Go

A quickie this time because the two women are off to the Dominican Republic for some serious R&R complete with sun and sand and beaches, snorkeling, whale watching, kayaking, bird watching and whatever else is to be found. It’s our first real trip since the health horrors of the fall. We’re about as excited as it can get.

Still, I wanted to pass along the news that the Ask No Questions tour was truly a great success. Audience numbers were up in most locations. The people of Wakefield did us proud by turning out in a mega-snow storm; the new venue at Burnstown proved highly successful; our decision to move to the intimacy of Showplace in Peterborough was confirmed. Most important of all, the show lived up to expectations. Audiences were deeply moved. Talk at the intermission was all of similar family histories. At the end, one group had to be almost shooed out the door they had so much to say to one another. “I was completely enthralled and experienced the empowerment and catharsis that derives from hearing, truly hearing/receiving a profound story about what it is to be human,” one listener wrote.

Through it all, Jennifer and I had the satisfaction of watching Jan Gregory prove once more just how much is to be gained by consecutive repeat performances. There was a continuous sense of deepening with each night. How does this deepening occur? I think it’s engendered by the fact that the more times you tell a story, the greater your chance is to live it; to feel what is really happening under all the words; to be there fully -- moment by moment -- as the events unfold. This means that parts that once seemed funny suddenly don’t any more; parts that once were serious take on a new twist. It makes space for memories and connections to come flooding – from you and from your listeners. The foundations are firmed and enriched.

I leave you with a thought to ponder. Jennifer was recently in a workshop given by Alexis Roy from Montreal. It was all about stage presence and its necessity. Somewhere along the way the talk turned to The Iliad and The Odyssey. “Ah,” said Alexis. “That’s different. When you work with the fine old classical material, presence is almost not an issue. The text and the tale carry you. They’re all that’s required.”

Off to sea and sunshine. Two women journey forth.




Settling In

I am a huge fan of crosswords – not the cryptics but the other kind.  I especially like the Saturday New York Times one because it always seems to have some extra level of challenge. The thing that always amazes me is how so often I don’t know the answers and don’t know the answers and then suddenly do. I’ll go to bed at night baffled and wake up in the morning to “Yeeeees!”

I’m thinking about that because I’m fascinated with the fact that sometimes the brain has to be left to its own devices. It seems to need time to head off and work out a few things for itself – quietly, without any overt interference on my part. I came on a brilliant example of that last week when I went to Kim Kilpatrick’s reprise of her one woman show Flying in the Dark. A Blind Woman’s Story (

Anyone who was reading this blog last year will remember the intense and difficult work Kim did to find her way to shaping the second half of the piece. I think we all knew we’d gone as far as we could when the tour began. We also knew the place we’d got to was good but not quite as good as it could be. Now, there’s the remount – by Ottawa Storytellers in its regular season venue at the Fourth Stage of the NAC.

As Kim was preparing, she wrote to me. “I just can’t do the second half the way I did it. It doesn’t seem right,” she said. Off she went on another journey. The result was truly an improvement – steadier more natural – but what caught my attention particularly was the fact that really all the previous elements were there. They had just needed time to settle and become more integrated into her being so that she could bring them forth anew. Not only that, through the process, the whole evening had become richer. The first half was almost unchanged but it came to its listeners more clearly – stronger; Kim’s voice was different, more grounded, deeper as if that was more settled too.

So there it is – a call to patience; to know that sometimes we simply have to give ourselves space. We go as far as we can. We want to go further but we have to wait, live more, before we can. I’ve always loved the following quote from Shakespeare In Love for just this reason:

Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

So what do we do?

Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.


I don't know. It's a mystery.

I think mystery is important. I think we have to trust its power.

At the Fourth Stage performance, Pat Holloway OST’s trusty publicity manager was heard to say, “This show has legs.” Kim is, of course, eager to be performing it widely. Contact us at for more information about that. Also catch news about Kim’s doings at Great Things About Being Blind.

Bright, bright cold here. Winter in all its harshness and its splendour.  One of the wonders of the earth.

Jan Gregory is back with us this weekend for final touches to Ask No Questions. Watch this space.



Letting Go

There she is in all her glory. Jan Gregory of 2wp’s next production -- Ask No Questions: Family Secrets -- sitting on our spare bed (which happens to be in Jennifer’s office), preparing herself last weekend for another day of working on the show.

What a day it proved to be. We all thought the script  was set and ready. Then, as Jan began a read-through so that we could get some better idea of timing, we all knew we were wrong. Where was the flow; the vitality we’d all anticipated and were striving for? Somehow they seemed to have disappeared. They were gone.

For a moment, we looked at one another in despair.  “Leave the script,” said Jennifer. “We’re done with that,” And we were. Jan set the pages down. She stood by the couch in our living room, a teller. She began to tell the tale. The shape she had built so carefully remained strong but the means of it were altered. Elements we’d all believed to be so satisfying quietly dropped away.  

When Jan headed back to Montreal on Sunday afternoon (minus her car’s wing mirror which had come off in a small skirmish with a tree when she’d arrived on Friday evening and followed Jennifer’s not quite appropriate instructions for entering our far too icy road)…

When Jan headed back she was smiling, knowing the time had truly come to start moving into performance mode: the time for taking what she had created more deeply into herself, for trusting the voice of it, for readying herself to speak Ask No Questions in her own inimitable way.

All this is simple for me to write but the step she had taken when she set the script down represents one of the most difficult aspects of any creative endeavour. Always and always you dream up some phrase, build some structure, detail some episode, evoke some underlying concept. Whatever it is, it seems so brilliant. It may indeed be so. Nevertheless you have to let it go.  You have to accept that it was simply a way of moving yourself forward, a part of the process – a part that will block and bind you if you persist in clinging  to it once its time has passed.

“Kill your literary darlings,” they say. Over and over, I find myself facing the necessity of that. Something like it comes up in other parts of life, of course (back to the need I mentioned in my previous blog for distinguishing between tradition and bad habits, for instance). Still, it somehow seems most  wrenching in that work I have struggled so mightily to bring forth from nothing; that work I want above all to make perfect; that work which is closest to my soul.

But, there we were in our living room and the shift had been made.  Once it had, it was as if each one of us had taken off a set of blinkers. We could see so much more clearly what had to be added and adjusted so that Jan would be enabled to carry her listeners into her family’s world. It’s a journey backwards -- first to post World War II Britain and then beyond that to the pre-War poverty of an industrial northern British town. It’s a journey that has to do with solving a mystery; a journey built of silences and teeming life.

Hoping you can join us, or perhaps find means to bring 2wp's work to where you are. Delighted to report that although it's cold today the sun is shining. The ice on the lake has tones and shades beyond describing.

Thanks for your company, Jan