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Monday
Dec192011

Well....I've been sick

Amazing how a not even all that serious bug can turn the brain to porridge, leading the generating of even the simplest thought to be a monumental task.  So it has been for me this past week or so.  Amazing too how easy it is to get down in these times, to be seriously concerned that creativity has flown forever through the window taking with it all ability to do anything (creativity that is absolutely, totally, for sure and certain, never to return.)

Part of this, I think, has to do with the mysterious nature of our calling.  We actually don't know where so much of what we do comes from -- those ideas that pop up out of nowhere leading to fresh involvements; those times when everything all starts flowing in unexpected ways.  We're not even sure about the day to day stuff so there's always that suspicion we might wake up one morning and find it (whatever it is) has all gone away. 

There’s also the role of plain old fashioned exhaustion.  We’re so excited by the potentials, we simply run and run.  And the running of late has been so good.  It's been hugely satisfying to see that the work of 2wp is gaining acceptance; to have helped Flying in the Dark soar to fruition (or some such metaphor); to get The Odyssey rehearsals going and watch the tellers' excitement at their discoveries.  It's been grand to see that listeners are now coming to www.jansstorytellingclub.wordpress.com in growing numbers on a regular basis; to celebrate the fact that When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew.  Tales of Ti-Jean has made the Silver Birch Express Award list.  (You can check that one out at www.janandrews/books/When_Apples_Grew.html)

It’s been good!  No, more than that, it’s been great!  Still, time is pressing.  We have to be gearing up for various other adventures on our lists. Above all, we have to get back to working on Dragon’s Gold which has its premier February 16 as part of the Ottawa Storytellers regular season at the Fourth Stage of the National Arts Centre (www.ottawastorytellers.ca/4th-stage-at-the-nac/).  We’ve already mulled extensively; we’ve explored sundry versions; we’ve decided who out of the three of us (the Two Women plus Katherine Grier) will tell which bit, but this is a piece of vast emotional sweep.  Jennifer and I are off to Saskatchewan for two weeks of performing and workshop-ing on January 7.  We can’t just wait till we return.

We have to find means to take ourselves back in time – back to the days when Odin and Loki and the old Norse pantheon walked the earth.  We have to inhabit the battle that gives Sigurd his triumph over the terrible dragon, Fafnir; we have to live with the disastrous effects of the draught of forgetting that deprives Brynhild of all that she has longed for; we must prepare ourselves for the funeral pyre that brings a culmination to the treasure’s curse. 

Not exactly Christmas fare, I hear you cry.  In a way, you’re right but I think too of what I put in this blog not long ago when I wrote of Pina Bausch – of how through art there may be transcendence.  We may walk the darkness in all its fullness; we may know its horror and still come forth thrilled at the knowledge that we are human, we are alive.

If only the porridge would clear!  Even as I write that I know I actually have a fair amount of faith in its going.  After all, I’ve been down this road before.  Who hasn’t?  And….and this morning I started re-learning Alan Garner’s The Stone Book for a post-Christmas performance.  It’s one of my favourite pieces and there it was – that thrill of anticipation, the tingling of delight that comes with the evocation of a great tale.  (www.2wp.ca/the-stone-book/)

Probably shouldn’t ignore the need to rest bit though.  Maybe have some sherry, eat some fruitcake, contact some old friends, bask in some old memories, walk in the winter woods, ski if we can just get some cold weather and some snow.  In other words…..have Christmas.

Also rejoice in whatever natural phenomena our lake can bring us.  Saturday morning the temperature dropped suddenly.  In half an hour we went from open water to an ever-growing sheet of ice, rippled and dappled with the wind.  We could, quite literally, see the water thickening, we could see the cold catching the ice shards at the edges and holding them firm.  Then the sun came out and the temperature rose.  The ice began receding.  Half an hour later a substantial amount of it was gone.  We’ve never witnessed anything like this.  Maybe we won’t again ever.  All we can do is wonder at the world’s variability – its ever-changing energy and life.

Time then for the good wishes – to each and everyone of you, in any of the ways you happen to need or want.    

Tuesday
Nov292011

Flying in the Dark's Run Concludes with a Full House

Flying in the Dark's initial run is over but the accolades continue to come in.  We gathered comments, as we always do, after the shows but Kim is still getting emails and so are we.  Everyone is entranced with how she opened and closed by telling in the darkness, adding to the immediacy of her experience; how she carried us into her landscape so we too in our own ways could live it -- a landscape of sights and sounds and scents and textures that is rich and full.   Everyone is intensely moved by her honesty in the second half where she allowed us to see not just her strength but her vulnerability; where she -- a daily blogger of Great Things About Being Blind, known for her humour and positiveness -- allowed us to enter into the other side of her world.

No one will ever know how hard this was for her.  If I have learnt anything from all of this, it is that living with disability means you have to prove your ability, over and over on a daily basis; you have to keep demonstrating how good your days are; always and always you may find yourself faced with the voices of pity, the voices that imply you are not just disabled but incompetent, the voices that seek to undermine.  You can't afford to admit that you have weaknesses; you are pushed to appear almost super-human, even though you may do that with a laugh. 

I didn't feel I could put this before but now it seems fitting to let it be known that Kim was wrestling with words and shapes and images almost until the last.  In this, she showed incredible artistic commitment, always coming back for more.   One of our sessions left both of us  shaken to the core.  We had thought it was "all right" and suddenly it wasn't.  Neither of us knew what to do but still she hung in. 

The work was hers and what she finally crafted -- in its simplicity, its grace, its laughter and its poetry -- had nothing to do with impositions from outside.  Having said that, I would note that the work Jennifer and I did  with her was what opened the doors.  I would also say this depth of work is rare but when I see what Kim achieved I am yet more convinced that storytelling must have more of it if the art form is to keep on reaching out to listeners and so grow.

I'm going to finish with some quotes from Flying in the Dark's admirers.  Before I do that, I would also point out that this is a show which has legs.  It can travel.  It could come to you if you would book it.  Just get in touch with 2wp at http://www.2wp.ca/contact/

On to the quotes: 

"A very moving performance, exceptionally honest."

"Kim, now I have the opportunity to tell you again how much I enjoyed your storytelling last Saturday night
in Perth.  When the lights dimmed and faded away, and your voice came out of the darkness as a small child, full of wonder and joie de vivre, I was enchanted, and I am pretty sure the rest of the audience was too."

"Kim is a great storyteller - gentle and vulnerable one moment then funny and raging the next.  She had me gripped from the first moment."

"In the second half you showed your adult self, the struggles that I share with you and the courage that you have and I have and that makes us equals. I was able to stop thinking of you as "the remarkable blind woman" and start learning skills from a remarkable but at times insecure just-like-me woman."

"Story telling is such a lost art - who knew it was alive and well in Ontario until you two came along?  And, do you know what?  It's just the same as being a child and listening with that tremendous focus, totally enchanted, totally in thrall, hearing nothing else, knowing nothing else."

"Thank-you, Kim, for that wonderful, funny, thoughtful, profound and totally entertaining show."  

Thursday
Nov242011

Who Wants the Dress? -- and also Pina Bausch.

A week for pulling back, trying to quiet the administrative buzzing in my head so that I can get into my own work.  I have a show at Ottawa's Once Upon a Slam (http://onceuponaslam.com/) tomorrow evening -- perhaps the scariest piece of work I've ever done (the scary part being for me and not, I hope, for my listeners.

Who Wants the Dress? is another interweaving of life and literature -- again with a story from Sara Maitland's Angel Maker (aka A Book of Spells).  This one's called Seal Self.  It's about a young man setting out alone from a small English village to gain his first experience as a seal hunter.  For this, he must put on women's clothes.  He is supposed to come back with a seal skin to prove his manhood; he returns naked and empty-handed, not knowing who he is.

It's a tale I care for deeply but the telling is by no means easy.  Just for the Seal Self story, I would be nervous but then there's what follows -- the tale that is my own.  That comes out of something that happened to me not long ago when I got to hear storyteller Ivan Coyote telling the story of her coming out.  I was so struck with how we had lived in different times.  When I was young, for instance, gay men were still subject to imprisonment; lesbian women simply didn't exist.  That doesn't mean I believe everything is easy-peasy now, but I do know it isn't the same. 

Ivan's story came at me in a storm of what ifs?  I'm still wrestling with those although luckily the turbulence is abating somewhat.  I think I have created a good strong piece but getting up and putting it out there shakes me to the core.  I've written about this before -- when the piece was called Meeting the Trickster.  I know I've said already how part of telling these stories has to do with a chance to speak to and for my generation and others, within and without the GLBT world.  It's all at the top of my mind though.  I can't quite think of writing about anything else.

That's how it is for me always with the big pieces that I don't do often.  Each time as I start the process of reclamation, I have to immerse myself, to walk the journey and walk the journey alone in my study before I can ever hope to walk it up on the stage there at the performance time. 

I have to make space, to shut out other people's endeavours and other projects although sometimes there will be miracles of inspiration that come light-leaping in.  Such a thing occurred on Tuesday, when Jennifer and I went to the movie Pina -- about the life of the great dancer, choreographer, Pina Bausch. Go see it if you can.

Here is a woman who changed the world, who risked and dared, extended her artistic reach and vision almost beyond believing; a woman who created wonders -- dances that are rivetting and utterly unforgettable, dances that leave her audiences changed.

She died very suddenly in 2009.  When we got home, we checked what others had written about her. We came on a remembrance created by actress and theatre director, Fiona Shaw.  Shaw talks about Pina's "wild freedom and imagination, bound by a remarkable discipline;" Shaw speaks of how Pina's dancers "danced from themselves."  Shaw says, "When you see the work -- the repetition of human love gestures, aborted wishes, rejection, inadequacy, desolation and absurdity -- you still come out thrilled to be a member of the human race."  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/jul/06/pina-bausch)

I think what Pina tells us is to go for it.  I think we all of us need to be trying to do that.

Pina herself asked, "What do you long for?  What is all this yearning?"  I think that's a question to stir the soul. 

 

Monday
Nov142011

My Piece of Remembrance

It seems strange now but I was a long way into adulthood before it truly dawned on me that soldiers don't just get sent out to get shot.  The recognition came through a photograph.  It was a large photograph -- the sort of photograph people who don't have much money only acquire through special occasions.  It hung in my grandparents' dining room where we only ever went at special times -- times that made eating in the kitchen not-good enough.

It was a picture of my grandfather, dressed in his uniform, with his sergeant's stripes on his sleeve.  I presume it was taken just before he went away to the trenches of the First World War.  After my grandparents died and their home was broken up, I didn't see that photo for a long time.  My mother kept it somewhere.  Then, she hung it up.  She put it at the top of the stairs.  I saw it when I went to England to visit her. 

Right away, that photo gave me a shock because I realized that the face that was looking at me was not just the face of my grandfather, but also of my son.  We'd always been puzzled as to who on earth in the family he took after.  As I came to the top of the stairs, I knew.

He was about seventeen at the time and we had been watching All Quiet on the Western Front.  It had weighed heavily on both of us that he was almost at an age where -- if there was a war on -- he would be called up.  "What would you do?" I'd asked him.  He'd'd waited a moment before he answered.  "I think I'd have to go," he said.

It was what I'd expected and yet I hadn't been certain for my son was (and is) very much a man of peace -- the go-to for others when difficulties abound.  A man of peace, just like my grandfather who was, in truth, the kindest man I've ever known.  He loved to laugh and he loved to make others laugh with him, even though the jokes were mostly at his own expense.  He loved his garden, he loved to send us home with great bouquets of flowers.  He loved to be with children.  He had not the slightest hesitation in helping my brother and me tear up his lawn in scooter races (which he timed for us); clutter it with boxes, chairs, junk, as we created a series of trains.

I have no idea why his picture was what brought me my epiphany.  I just know I looked at it -- there at the top of the stairs, in my mother's house, so many years after his portrait was taken.  All of a sudden I could feel all through me: soldiers aren't just sent out to get shot.  Soldiers are given guns.  Soldiers are expected to use them.  Soldiers, wherever they come from, kill.

So, had my grandfather?  He'd certainly never talked about it but then he'd hardly talked about the war at all. 

I remember this on Remembrance Day, when there is so much mention of the fallen; when I am called back to my childhood, born in England in 1942, raised very much with the sense that we were the ones who'd suffered.  It somehow seems important that I keep this knowledge front and centre -- part of the recognition of all that war will do. 

 

Friday
Oct282011

Arts Coalition Day, Parliament Hill

I have to admit becoming a political lobbyist wasn't one of my life's expectations.  Still there I was on Tuesday, October 25 -- Arts Coalition Day -- storming Parliament Hill in the company of 100 other Canadian artists, pleading our cause for continued funding for the arts. 

There were over 120 meetings organized with MPs from all parties. My team (consisting of Boomer Stacey from the theatre organization PACT and Francine Schutzman from the Canadian Organization of Symphony Musicians) simply had to take on two.  Still it was a daunting prospect although both Boomer and Francine had participated last year.  Coming into the day I was worried.  I need not have been.  The Canadian Arts Coalition (http://www.canadianartscoalition.com/) made sure we were extremely well-prepared. 

In advance, we were told what we should actually be lobbying for.   This involved three crucial points the Coalition had made in its presentation to the Finance Committee during the pre-budget exercises.  At the day-opening breakfast a team from a professional group called Ensight Canada coached us in the presentation of  our "asks."  We were given leave-behind packages; we were provided with information on those we would meet.  This information included a description of the riding and of the MP's interests and affiliations.  There was also a list of Canada Council grants which had been awarded in the riding in the last twelve months.

All this proved crucial in postioning ourselves.  I was also helped by the fact that Jennifer Ferris, SC-CC's Vice-President, and I had spent the previous day at a meeting of National Arts Service Organizations hosted by the Canada Council.  (SC-CC stands for Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada for those who don't know!)  The highlight of the day had been the opening speech by CEO Robert Simard.  He had talked with incredible clarity in an all-out effort to help us understand the government's position (the big thing being that balancing the budget by 2014 is non-negotiable) and gain insight into a language by which submissions might be made. 

The biggest part of the message was that the Conservatives have in fact put more into the arts than any other government and that (whether we agreed with their methods or not) we needed to start in recognition and acclamation of this.  It was also stressed that positive approaches would be more useful than adversarial ones.  This was not what I had expected but, in this spirit and maintaining our awareness of the bottom-line, unshakeable requirement for fiscal restraint, we went forth.

Both our meetings were with Conservative MPs and both went well.  I cannot tell where it will all lead but I do know that a collegial atmosphere was established and I did have a feeling that this has the potential to serve us well.

At the end of the day, there was a reception hosted by the Deputy-Speaker, Denise Savoie.  The mood was celebratory.  The Honorable James Moore, Minister for Canadian Heritage, made his enthusiasm obvious.  He spoke of his recognition of the arts as being essential both to the economy and to quality of life.  He did it with heart. 

Part of me still wants to be somewhat sceptical (not being a card-carrying Conservative and all!).  Nevertheless,  I am extremely glad to have been a participant.  I also think I learned a lot.  I suppose I had imagined we would be called upon to rush to the barricades.  I was pleased to experience this other method of seeking to achieve our aims.  It's a method I've always used but always in other places.  I think I believed "the Hill" would be different.  I saw it didn't have to be.  That meant a lot.  Indeed, I have plans to approach my local MP -- whose name was not on the meetings list -- to see what might be managed.  I'll let you know how that turns out. 

 

 

 

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