Two years ago, as part of the National Arts Centre’s Canada Performs initiative, Alexa Higgins and Ian Ottis Goff of Falling Iguana Theatre staged a digital production of their company’s debut work, DIANA. Later that same year, Higgins and Goff would broadcast DIANA again from their Toronto apartment.
In 2021, Falling Iguana headlined the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival with their second original production, 81 Minutes. The summer production marked the company’s return to in-person performance. Written and directed by Higgins and Goff, 81 Minutes is a speculative depiction of the 1990 heist that saw thirteen works (estimated worth: $500 million) lifted from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.
Last month, Higgins and Goff announced the Toronto-based company, in collaboration with NotaBle Acts and Live Bait Theatre, would be touring 81 Minutes in late April. Falling Iguana’s East Coast tour will see the original cast perform in Fredericton and Sackville, and then Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Below is my interview with the duo behind Falling Iguana. We talk about the company, DIANA, and remounting 81 Minutes.
Falling Iguana is a physical theatre company. What is physical theatre, and how does it manifest in your work?
Alexa Higgins: People often get nervous when we say physical theatre because there’s an image that it’s mime slash dance. There are elements of that, but we consider physical theatre to be present in all types of theatre. Physical theatre explores bodily movement in ways that enhance the story. We use movement to reveal what a character is really thinking versus what they say. We also use movement to build the world. In both of our plays, we jump around to different cities and timelines. We think using broader movement helps the audience go on that journey with us. It makes for great comedy as well! Both plays have a lot of comedy, and we think it comes through because of that physicality.
Falling Iguana has presented DIANA four times, split evenly between the stage and online. Could you describe the experience of taking a stage production and translating it for a digital space, all while working within your living room?
Higgins: It was a challenge, as you can imagine, but that’s where the physicality comes in handy. You can expand and collapse your movement to fit whatever space you are in. When we found out we were going to be performing from our living room, we decided to reshape the piece from the perspective of a film. We thought it would be fun if the camera was an additional character in our story. We decided what we wanted to share and not share with the camera. We also played with scale and forced perspective. At one point, I used the wall as though it was the ground.
Do you have a background in film and operating a camera, or was that new for you?
Higgins: We have experience in front of the camera.
Ian Ottis Goff: I have worked on films as an actor and a member of crew. As theatre creators, you are always thinking about what the audience sees. We thought a lot about what does it look like from this angle? If we move the camera like this, what does it feel like? You think a lot about how it’s going to be perceived.
Did the experience lead to any discoveries?
Goff: The amount of eyeballs we got on it. A theatre is only so big, meaning you can only fit so many people inside. After the Canada Performs stream, we checked the numbers and saw that nearly 1,000 people had watched it. If we did DIANA in a 1,000 seat theatre, that would be an incredible performance.
Higgins: For me, how we built our virtual version of DIANA. We are proud of it. We are going to use that non-linear thinking back in the rehearsal hall. It has informed 81 Minutes, and it will inform our future productions.
The original cast of 81 Minutes is coming back for the tour.
Higgins: Yes, all five performers are returning.
You are in different cities right now. What is the rehearsal process like?
Goff: We are lucky because 81 Minutes premiered last summer, so it wasn’t too long ago. This kind of physical work sits in your body. We have a week of rehearsals before our first show in Fredericton. If you show up with the lines learned, the movement will come back quickly.
Higgins: We also have archival video from our summer show. We sent that out to the actors. Everybody has been making sure they know their individual track. Once in the rehearsal hall, we’ll be able to take more care with each scene, so everyone knows where they are going.
Tell me about the play. It’s based on a real heist?
Goff: On March 18th, 1990, in the early hours of St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, Massachusetts, two men disguised as police officers went to the side door of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The “officers” knocked on the door, and one of the museum guards came down. The police officers were investigating a disturbance in the area and needed to come in to make sure everything was alright. The guards let them in. The thieves handcuffed the guards and chained them to a boiler in the basement. For the next 81 minutes, the thieves perpetuated the largest unsolved art heist. Actually, I just read recently that it is the largest theft of property in history. They did it, and they were gone. The pieces are still missing.
What is it about this story that attracted you to it?
Higgins: I had never seen an art heist explored on stage before. That seemed like a fun slew of characters we could create from this real story. In our extensive research, we learned that most art heists take 3-5 minutes. This one took 81 minutes. Were the thieves confident in what they were doing? Or, were they unsure? There are a lot of unknowns.
Also, we started to think—81 minutes straight is a perfect length of time for a play. We started thinking about counting down our show, from 81 minutes to zero, with a giant clock on stage. When the clock hits zero, it’s blackout. No matter if we are done the show or not. It adds a layer of tension for us and the audience. We hope to emulate the feeling from that night.
When did the clock enter the creation process? It seems like it arrived early on.
Goff: We traveled to New Brunswick for a writer’s retreat. We sat by the lake, writing scene after scene. The idea came into our head: what if we had a clock sitting on stage counting down from 81 minutes? Our original idea was it would be a classic clock face, and then it turned into a digital clock which is a lot of fun. A digital clock sheds its own light, an eerie red glow.
Higgins: During that writing workshop, we realized we also wanted to include a second timeline in the show. We follow the thieves and the guards the night of the robbery, and then we jump back in time to Isabella Stewart Gardner’s life in the late 1800s. She was one of the only female art collectors around at that time. She’s an ethically complicated character when it comes to her opinion on art and who art belongs to. We jump back and forth between her timeline and the heist to explore what these art pieces mean and where they came from.
Where did you get the clock?
Goff: We bought the clock online. Originally, we were thinking the clock was going to be a gigantic thing, like five feet by six feet. It’s been pared down a little bit.
You have to travel with it.
How did the tour come together?
Goff: One thing we think a lot about is how a lot of times you’ll do a play once, and then it’s put on the shelf. It’s done and gone. We don’t like that. As our history shows, we like to keep working on a play and putting it in front of new audiences. As 81 Minutes was happening, we were looking for another place to put it.
Higgins: Ron Kelly Spurles, the artistic director of Live Bait Theatre, saw our production in the summer, and he invited us to perform in Sackville. Okay, if we are going back to New Brunswick, we better go back for more than one show. What can we realistically build? Fredericton is a great place to start because we already have a base there. We started talking with community members there about building our show. NotaBle Acts is presenting us in both Fredericton and Sackville. The last stop in the tour, which took a little more time to figure out, is Alderney Landing in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. We are very excited. They have a fantastic space. It will be the fourth province Falling Iguana has performed in.
What does it mean for you to be able to perform in-person again?
Higgins: When we did our live show this past summer, it was very moving. There’s nothing like having a live audience response. We are looking forward to sharing this weird and wild and partially true story with other real humans in the room and counting down the clock together.
Falling Iguana’s touring production of 81 Minutes arrives in Fredericton on Friday, April 22. 7:30 p.m. at UNB’s Memorial Hall. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.
Sackville: Saturday, April 23 at the Sackville Legion. 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online.
Dartmouth: Sunday, April 24 at Alderney Landing. 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.
For more information about Falling Iguana, visit their website.
Released last year, Border Crossing is Jennifer McAuliffe’s debut comedy album. The Toronto native recorded the album in 2018 at Third Coast Comedy Club in Nashville, Tennessee. McAuliffe is a surprise, for sure. She may seem chill and “adorable,” but when McAuliffe hits the gas, she turns into the Honeycomb Monster—“I want a baby so bad!”
Like the Honeycomb Monster, McAuliffe is cartoonishly bananas. It must be the stress or the rage. Both? Whatever it is, you can see it in her eyes from a mile away. “Eyes are the windows to the soul, and I need Venetian blinds.” The upside is that she doesn’t need a dentist to remove her wisdom teeth. “I can grind them down!”
Dating is hard for McAuliffe, who describes herself as the stairs in a horror movie. “Don’t go down there! You’re going to get so hurt!” She might be a lot of work, but she’s a good girlfriend! She’s a good ex-girlfriend? “Can you call me an Uber? I’ve been drinking.”
The best line from the album is “my personality swims with a t-shirt.” Print that on a t-shirt! Or a tote bag! There are a few other lines I could see doing well on merchandise.
While listening to Border Crossing, I couldn’t help but think about Laurie Elliott’s set on Comedy Now! If you watched it, you remember Elliott’s goofy physicality and wild laugh that punctuates her televised appearance. McAuliffe brought me right back there. She’s a weirdo, and she’s not afraid to show it! Her feral energy is hilarious. You get the feeling that if she ever wrote a self-help book, every page would be whatever internal screaming looks like in print.
Buckle up! Jennifer McAuliffe’s Border Crossing is a wild ride.
I am very unfamiliar with the works of Jane Austen. There, I said it. I know, I know. How have I not read Emma or Persuasion—or Pride and Prejudice? So, when Theatre New Brunswick began advertising its holiday production, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, I didn’t exactly jump to my calendar. It’s not for me, I thought.
I was wrong.
After a two-year absence, TNB returns to the Fredericton Playhouse. (Yeah, it’s been awhile). Ryan G. Hinds is back as well, this time in the director’s chair. You might remember him from It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play, TNB’s last mainstage production before theatres closed due to the pandemic.
Written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is a “sequel” to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where the focus is—finally—on Mary Bennet (Jillian Hanson). Mary is the Bennet family’s awkward middle child. She disappears in a room, preferring to study maps and scientific theories than engage in frivolous conversation. Of course, since it is the holidays, Mary will do her best to socialize with her sisters and their husbands, Mr. Darcy (Kenzie Delo) and Mr. Bingley (Santiago Guzmán), during her stay at Pemberley.
Mary’s world is turned upside down when Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Arthur de Bourgh (Tallas Munro), arrives at the country estate. Well, not right away. Here’s the thing: you can be absolutely brilliant and not see what’s in front of you. It’s like that Gary Larson cartoon where the kid genius pushes on a door that says pull.
Arthur and Mary are two peas in a pod. Among their similarities: Arthur is awkward. He enjoys the company of books, finding people too complex. If only Arthur and Mary could see the obvious! The sparks are there, but neither knows how to express their feelings. Elizabeth Darcy (Lara Lewis) and Jane Bingley (Sharisse LeBrun) try intervening to help Mary while Lydia Wickham (Caroline Coon), the youngest of the Bennet sisters, pursues Arthur for herself. However, Mary and Lydia have a surprise/terror waiting in the wings, and her name is Anne de Bourgh (Melissa MacKenzie).
The Pride and Prejudice connection might scare some people away. ‘Literary classic’ is a term that evokes required reading in high school English. It’s homework. Miss Bennet isn’t that. It’s fun. It’s sharp. It feels contemporary while splashing around in the time period.
For anyone curious, I read up on Pride and Prejudice—like a student cramming for an exam—before coming to see the play. It’s not necessary to do so, but I think it’s helped me sink into the play a little more.
The reason I say it’s not necessary to read the source material: Miss Bennet is not a thesis paper where the authors argue why Mary Bennet deserved better. The story presented here is universal. You root for Mary because she is the underdog, the social misfit who hasn’t yet found her people, or in this case—her person. Mary is like Elizabeth’s Christmas tree, a German tradition now installed in Pemberley. Everyone has their opinion on it, but in the end, the tree does what the tree does—it stands tall. So, you could say the play is a defense of Mary Bennet. However, I think it’s a celebration of the character and all the Mary Bennets of the world.
TNB’s production is like the house in your neighbourhood decked out with Christmas lights. It’s lit. The inspiration from Netflix’s Bridgerton is obvious. The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’ can be heard, along with other popular songs like Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes. The musical arrangements complement the setting (Composer, Sound Designer: Jodee Richardson).
Hinds’ vision for a contemporary presentation is what you want after two years sitting at home, flipping through Netflix. You want to feel. You want to be entertained. You want to share an experience with strangers. The production achieves all that. It just feels so fresh and alive. Kudos to Hinds for approaching the play with a clear direction in mind.
Pemberley looks exquisite thanks to set designer Andrea Evans. Lighting designer Leigh Ann Vardy paints the estate in warm festive colours that inspire romance. The outfits are spectacular. Sherry Kinnear has really outdone herself.
Hanson is the kind of actress you want as your anchor. Around her are actors playing large personalities (LeBrun plays a buoyant and very pregnant Jane). Hanson pulls your focus. You want to listen to every word she sees, and Mary Bennet has a lot to say. Her acerbic delivery makes for great comedic moments.
Speaking about Mary, the character says something that couldn’t apply more to Coon in the role of Lydia—”younger sisters are squeaky.” The actress brings ‘pest scurrying from room to room’ energy to her character. She’s an airheaded menace. Although, she has her reasons for acting out in such a way. Coon is a delight in the role.
Munro is endearing as the nerdy and newly minted Lord Arthur de Bourgh. Hanson and Munro are like wine and cheese, a solid pairing.
TNB’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is a festive treat.
Theatre New Brunswick’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs December 9 – 11 at the Fredericton Playhouse. The production has a final performance on December 12th at the Imperial Theatre.
“We are so lucky to do stuff like this,” Clare Belford says to a sold-out crowd in Charlottetown. “I was in Toronto for the first wave — of the pandemic, in case you were wondering.” The comedian talks about quarantine making people horny, herself included. A few moments later, that’s it for pandemic talk in Belford’s debut comedy album, The Entire Cabbage.
If you follow the blog, you might recognize Belford’s name from my interview with Dena Jackson. In that interview, Jackson spoke about her comedy tour Road Broads, postponed due to the pandemic. The tour would have seen Jackson and Belford perform across Western Canada.
A year later, Belford is back on stage and no longer a resident of Toronto. The comedian calls Prince Edward Island home now. “I moved to Toronto six years ago from Alberta to pursue my stand-up comedy dreams — which is why you all know who I am.” That’s right, Maritime readers, there’s a chance you could see Belford perform live in your town.
Which I think is awesome because Clare Belford is some fuckin’ funny, man.
The Entire Cabbage serves up the mundane as seen through the eyes of a walking, talking, “skatepark” who worries a lot about divorce, despite not being married.
I could listen to Belford talk all day about riding the bus in Toronto. So, she finds puke on the bus, and now there’s a dilemma. Does she tell the bus driver? “He’s going to be like — yeah, lady, there’s puke back there. This is the bus.” Her delivery is so good. It’s like we are all standing outside in a circle wearing flannel, and Belford is smoking, telling this story about public transit. Everyone’s laughing. A car passes by, and we wave at them. We don’t know who they are. It’s just polite to wave.
And the whole thing about someone sharing her name? “Everyone started calling her Little Clare. So, I’m Big Clare? Don’t love that.” Hilarious.
Now, there are a few weaker points in the album. I listened to the album four times — twice during a heat wave, then twice more when my brain wasn’t melting from the heat. I can tell you that I stopped listening intently during the same parts. I can also tell you that the same laugh-out-loud parts made me laugh out loud again. “When I’m really trying my best to flirt, I sound a lot like an old stubborn horse. Pfft. You’re so funny. Pfft.”
I think you should listen to The Entire Cabbage. Some parts may not hit, but the parts that do? Deliciously funny. Belford is very cool and super chill, “I do de-Clare.” Her writing is clever, with wordplay and callbacks, and sometimes strange. It’s fun when she gets animated and puts on a voice. You can visualize it in your head. Her delivery is so smooth. I think watching Belford perform live would be awesome, which is why the Maritimes are lucky to have her. If she comes to your area, buy a ticket. I’ll see you there.
Two years ago, Christina Martin, accompanied by her husband, Dale Murray, performed live in Fredericton as part of her Wonderful Lie tour. It feels so long ago and far away, like a dream. If it were not for the signed album in my car, I would not believe that I was there that night in November.
My signed copy of Wonderful Lie is like an artifact: a link to another time. There was an informal line-up to talk with Christina during the break. The audience talked amongst themselves in the meantime. Some refreshed their drinks, while others stepped outside for a smoke. The venue saw new faces come inside for the performance, with jackets over what seats remained. The sound of chatter and laughter grew louder and louder. And then, all attention returned to Christina and Dale. Oh, to be in a crowd again.
I struggle to keep track of time, and yet I have never been so keenly aware of time. Almost every conversation I’m in has someone say, “Well, you know, back when things were normal.” And so, I have made a collage, like you used to make from old magazines, to tell this story of an artist trying to keep the music and her mission alive after the world stops turning. While you reflect on the continued absence of live performance, I hope you also feel inspired to support local talent in whatever way is possible for you right now.
Christina Martin: So, a little bit of an update. Things seem to be progressing with the coronavirus where we are. We had one show cancelled, just one, in Germany. Of course, this means a loss of revenue. Our priority is that everyone is safe, so you’ve got to suck it up. It’s just money, but it’s still depressing. There might be more cancellations. It’s a day by day thing. We’re lucky that nothing else has been cancelled yet, but I did receive a concerning email that there could be more shows cancelling.
Hopefully, y’all are safe and sound. I’ve noticed that people at our shows are not shaking hands anymore. Sick people are staying home. If somebody is a close talker, I’ve been getting used to putting my hand out and showing people where they need to stand. It’s not the time to be close talking. It goes against our natural tendencies, but these are times where you don’t want to get infected or spread anything
It’s a little stressful as this tour was a big financial investment. We were hoping to pay down a lot of debt because we had a lot of shows booked. We are hoping no more shows are cancelled. Everything is on until we announce otherwise.
All these wonderful people on stage tonight. Thank you all for your talent, your time, and your friendship, assuming we are friends.
These next two songs are really about us making friends with the darkness, the creative droughts, and the financial droughts. And just fucking persevering and persisting. Because when you do that in this business, you get to have wonderful nights like tonight with all of you. Thank you so much, let’s have some fun.
March 12, 2020 Facebook Live
Things have been progressing pretty fast here and around the world. Three days ago, we did not expect that we would be cancelling shows or any part of our tour. That changed quite quickly.
We are right now sitting in a very long queue trying to drive back to Germany from France. I have never seen this before. Usually, it’s free to drive between countries in Europe. Germany is taking precautions and stopping everybody. I hope that we can get through.
We just made the decision. I think we’re going to have to cancel the rest of this tour, including the Poland dates. I have to email everybody. I still haven’t done that yet. You’re finding out before anyone else. I think everyone is expecting that. The word is more and more things are shutting down to keep people safe. We want to support that.
We are safe, and we do feel healthy. We are just bummed out because of this decision to cancel the rest of our European tour dates. We are still planning on doing the UK tour. We’ll just have to make arrangements to fly from Canada to the UK if everything is clear at that point. It sucks, but it’s the way it is right now for a lot of people. We have a lot of friends who had to cancel their tours here. We heard that the JUNO Awards back home are cancelled.
I apologize for venues who are finding out from me on Facebook Live.
Alright, see you guys.
Excerpt fromChristina Martin Talks New Album, Life on the Road, and Taking Care of Business October 28, 2019/ Joyful Magpies
It is a sleepy morning for [Christina Martin], home after touring Newfoundland. Martin and her husband/guitarist Dale Murray are enjoying two days of rest before hitting the road again in the morning. Their Canadian tour will take them as far as British Colombia.
Last month, Martin released Wonderful Lie, the award-winning musician’s seventh album. As part of the Wonderful Lie Tour, the singer-songwriter will perform in Fredericton at The Muse Cafe, November 22. The venue is not far from where Martin grew up in the capital city.
Live at the Marquee Ballroom: Impossible to Hold Christina Martin introducing Keep Me Calm September 14, 2018
This next song was inspired by my best friend, someone who has been almost unconditionally loving and supporting. There was one condition: I did have to marry the fucking guy. This song is called Keep Me Calm.
Baby keep me calm tonight I can’t believe things turned so fast Baby, keep me calm until I Find my way to a pretty truce
This gets harder With every pulse, my heart breaks We get stronger The taste of sweet joy when we hit the stage Until then baby keep me calm
Baby sing our song tonight Help me remember why I still fight Baby pressures on, I carry All the worries, I want to let it go
October 20, 2020 Phone Interview
When you watch a movie or TV show, do you get anxious when you see people close together?
I’m watching Parks and Rec right now. Andy will hug Chris, and it makes me think about hugging. We can’t do that anymore. Some people do, but I don’t. Will there be a time where it’ll be safe to hug again, or is hugging over?
I saw you perform last year here in Fredericton. That was an intimate setting. Who knows when that will happen again?
I know that the venue is still having shows, and that’s great. I postponed my show there. We were supposed to do something on October 17th. It’s hard to sell tickets right now. People are tapped out from online events and worrying about contracting COVID-19. I can’t afford to cancel because of an outbreak.
I’d love to be the one who says, by next spring, this will all be over. We also said it’d be done by now, and it’s getting worse, I guess? I try staying away from the news and the COVID-19 numbers. Do you do that? I stopped because there’s nothing I can do besides what I can do to protect myself. What’s one more thing I can do to get on with life? I am going to stop reading the news about this specific thing because there’s nothing I can do. I’m sure I’ll hear about it when there’s a vaccine ready. Until then, I’m pretending that it’s everywhere.
Live at the Marquee Ballroom: Impossible to Hold Lyrics from Keep Me Calm
Baby keep me calm I could use your strength Baby you’re so strong Will you keep me calm
October 20, 2020 Phone Interview
Let’s go back to March. In a livestream from France, you announced that one of your shows had been cancelled. You were hoping to have no more shows cancelled. What was going through your mind at the time?
It feels wild right now to think about my mindset where I was at the time. It just speaks to the inexperience of ever living in a pandemic and understanding the severity of it. We were travelling with no masks, and we were doing shows.
Dale and I were asking ourselves, what if this ramps up? This is our livelihood. If this goes bust, I thought, how am I going to survive financially? This can’t happen. What can I do to keep any of this going? We were talking about staying and playing whatever shows weren’t cancelled. We were just grasping onto this idea that we could keep things going. Maybe in a week or two, this thing will blow over. It’s unbelievable that I was thinking that. We just didn’t understand the severity of it.
When the Canadian government urged Canadians to return home, I think that was it for us. I had to shut off that part of my brain that was concerned about the consequences for my business, and I put our health and safety first. That’s when I made the call. We had a few more cancellations that week, which confirmed that the pandemic was going to keep going for a while. When the decision is made for you, it’s a lot easier.
When you got home, did you give yourself some time to deflate, or were you right back to work?
Hell, no. I hit the ground running. How am I going to pick up the pieces? I had to dig into my finances. I had to ask around about support. I had to do final reports for the tour. I was concerned about money. I still am, but it was extremely heightened at that point. Every day since then, I get up at 7 a.m, and I go to work. There might be days where I crash, but it’s been a consistent “how am I going to adapt?”
January 5, 2018 Christina Martin’s first time onFacebook Live
Am I live? I’m waiting for Dale Murray, my co-producer. He’s sitting over there. I am waiting for him to give me a heads up to let me know if this is working. We have been on Facebook Live for 26 seconds, and I am nearly paralyzed with fear. I am so excited about this.
Later, I am going to talk about my goals, and hopes, and dreams for Facebook Live. I feel like such a dork. I feel like this is something people have been doing forever. I was scared, and I put it off. It’s like the skinny jeans thing. I was the last one to join that train, and now I’m stuck. I’m hooked on skinny jeans.
I think this will be a powerful way to connect with people.
October 20, 2020 Phone Interview
We learned quickly how dependent we would be on the internet and how shitty our bandwidth is living in rural Nova Scotia. Our upload speed hovers between 0.2 and 1.0 mbps. That’s been really hard.
I was fortunate coming into this that I was already thinking, what can we do online? I didn’t know I had so much to learn when COVID-19 hit. It’s a whole other ballgame. It’s so stressful when you try to go live, and people are complaining because there’s a delay. In a room, you can unplug your guitar and play for people. It’s not the same when you have shitty internet.
Did you ever imagine that you would be so online-oriented?
I wanted to focus on being a better onstage performer. Bells and whistles aside, I do find immense value in connecting with people around the world. It’s sort of like picking up the phone. I think that’s what has kept me going, connecting with people and seeing their responses.
March 27, 2020 Facebook Post
I’m taking advantage of the time I have at home to work and rest and maybe build a garden once the snow melts. I am dreaming of, and looking forward to, days when we can venture outside, and work together in close proximity again. Maybe I’ll go out dancing more. I wonder how this will change things. Will it be better or worse? Will we be stronger?
October 20, 2020 Phone Interview
How’s Dale doing?
He’s doing well. He is more handsome every day. He’s helping a friend trim bud. We might have to find other jobs. Everybody else is probably having to do the same thing. Nothing you want to do, but yeah, that could happen, that we have to do something else.
This past year, have you at any point thought, well, this is the end of the road? We had a good run. It’s time to live a less complicated life.
I’m not there yet where I’m ready to give up on what I’ve built. We moved out here to create a certain kind of life. We don’t know if things will be fine next year. I’m not ready to give up on fully dedicating myself to a life as a career artist. If we can make it through a pandemic doing the work we love, then hopefully, we will be stronger and wiser.
February 28, 2021 Facebook Live
Welcome to episode 21 of Cabin Fever. It’s Sunday, February 28th. I had to check. I have to check every day what day it is. A lot of days feel the same over here, and I’m sure in your household, too. That’s why it’s important to shake things up a bit.
How has your week been, everybody? Everything is fine over here. I will admit to feeling a little blocked in my work. There’s so many things I want to be doing. I’m not complaining, but sometimes I get impatient. You can only do so much. Take things one day at a time. Enjoy the work! I’m talking myself into a better place, so thank you for listening.
March 19, 2021 Phone Interview
How is your morning going so far?
I have been working on a Canada Council application all morning. That involves creating budgets, describing something you have not created yet, and putting value to your art and other people’s involvement.
After so many years of writing applications, has the process gotten any easier?
I think there’s some solace in knowing that you’ve done certain things before and have come out alright. But when you are trying to do something new with your work, it will feel uncomfortable, and that’s a good place to be in.
Back in October, you talked about working on a new album.
Dale and I started work on my new album in January. I had written most of the songs by last summer. We rented the Capitol Theatre in Oxford, Nova Scotia, so we could better follow pandemic safety precautions. We rented local accommodations in Cumberland County for the musicians. It was wonderful to make music with friends again.
We are in the mixing and trial-and-error stage of the new record. Simultaneously, I am trying to map out what I want to do with the artwork, live presentation, and music videos over the next year.
It’s coming together. We are excited about the music and how it’s sounding.
It has now been a year since you and Dale returned home from your European tour. What have you learned from this past year?
We’re not really in control as much as we like to think we are. Also, we need to learn to slow down and simplify our lives. The global environmental crisis: that has been on my mind, too. We live in a world that is obsessed with making money and consuming. Let’s not forget what’s going on and how we ended up here. Otherwise, things are going to look even worse in our lifetime.
In 2017, Andrea Werhun and Nicole Bazuin launched a Kickstarter campaign to help publish their book Modern Whore. The “creative memoir” would feature stories from Werhun’s time as an escort and film photography by Bazuin. The crowdfunding campaign succeeded, with Modern Whore launching in bookstores across North America.
A few years later, Bazuin helmed the short film adaptation of Modern Whore, a hybrid documentary featuring Werhun. It would enjoy its world premiere at SXSW 2020 as part of the film festival’s Documentary Shorts Program. SXSW 2020 was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading Modern Whore to premiere online — not in Austin, Texas, as planned.
“I didn’t want to be there anymore, not in a pandemic. It just didn’t feel safe. So, I got my things together, got on my bike, and went home. Two days later, the club was closed.
— Andrea Werhun, Last Night at the Strip Club
The documentary begins with Werhun looking back on her last few shifts at the strip club where she worked. She tells her story while recreating her stripper makeup in a video tutorial. “This is March 2020,” Werhun says, applying powder to her face. “Sports had been cancelled. Handshakes had been cancelled. So, how am I supposed to give a guy a lap dance if I can’t even give him a handshake?” The club closes after Premier Doug Ford declares a state of emergency in Ontario. Werhun needs to “think fast” as she faces an uncertain future.
“Think of this as meaningful quarantine companionship that is creative, conversational, and intimate in nature, centered around our mutual interests. A muse for hire, sure to amuse! Let’s go H-A-M.”
— Andrea Werhun, Official Website
Werhun comes up with something she calls Hire-A-Muse, or H-A-M. She describes H-A-M as falling into a “neat grey area of sex work.” There are a variety of packages offered through H-A-M, including private dance videos, tarot readings, and writing workshops (“I’m currently helping a sex worker organize their memoir”).
The documentary finds Werhun at home, working on her computer. She has landed a book deal to write a memoir about her stripping years. “What a time to write a book,” Werhun says to her editor over a video call.
Last Night at the Strip Club leaves us with Werhun writing late into the night. Her computer screen glows brightly in her face as she muses on the future. “Making plans is often a joke, but I do think it’s important to hold some dreams dear, so I’m just going to keep quietly plugging away at my dreams.”
Watching the film reminds me of all the artists who migrated online to save their livelihoods. Stand-up comedians are doing Zoom shows. Musicians are performing livestream concerts. For some artists, the transition has been difficult, whether it be technical difficulties, screen fatigue, or feeling drained by the world right now. Still, these artists, who were left scrambling to find alternatives, make it work and continue to pursue their dreams despite the challenges.
Werhun displays a knack for comedy. She is a great storyteller, a magnetic presence in this multi-layered documentary that throws viewers back a few decades with bright colours and a groovy soundtrack. The film strikes a balance between style and sincerity. Underneath its glitz and glamour, the documentary expresses anxiety over the future, capturing a relatable numbness in the face of continued uncertainty. The film’s final image, which shows Werhun writing late at night, that’s a lot of us right now. We are all trying to make it work. If we didn’t know it before, we know it now. Nothing in life is guaranteed. But why not try, because who knows what tomorrow holds?
Last Night at the Strip Club is a stylish but thoughtful film that sees its protagonist recreate herself after losing her job during a pandemic. Recommended viewing for anyone in need of a laugh and motivation to pursue their passion.
“As stand-up does, it takes over, and you leave your day job,” Dena Jackson says, speaking on the phone from her home in Toronto. It is kinda strange talking with the Scarborough native after hours of listening to her debut comedy EP, Blue Lights. You might remember that I wrote about it on the blog last year. I had Blue Lights on repeat in the car and at home, and now here I am in conversation with Jackson. It’s like, hey, I don’t remember this part of her set!
Blue Lightsis hilarious, just to remind you. You should give it a listen.
After graduating from Queen’s University with a degree in sociology, Jackson moved to Italy, where she performed children’s theatre across the country. A few years later, she returned to Toronto and pursued a postgraduate certificate in public relations from Ryerson University. After completing her program, Jackson began working in her field. “But I missed writing and performing.” She started doing stand-up comedy, and then in 2015, Jackson left her day job to pursue her passion full-time.
“It’s really scary,” she says. “You have to take a leap of faith and say, okay, I am going to commit to being an artist, and my lifestyle is going to change. My income is going to change. The way that I live my life is going to be quite different.”
“I had to save some money from my job and plan that I would have periods where things wouldn’t be as steady, and I would have to get used to that. I had to change a lot of things to make my financial world smaller for a while with the trust that it would grow.”
In 2019, Jackson delivered a TEDx Talk called “90% of Yoga is Off the Mat.” It is available to watch on YouTube. Since then, she has delivered keynote talks for universities and corporate audiences. “I focus on talking about how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness have impacted my life in a positive way.” Because these topics can be “heavy,” Jackson uses comedy to help lighten the mood.
Then, it’s out, and it’s gone
“Sure, she might be ‘moonwalking backwards’ through life, but [Dena] Jackson is fine with it. Back in the dating game after nearly a decade, the Toronto comedian wants everyone to know that she’s ‘chill, cool, and casual’…In her debut comedy EP Blue Lights, Jackson invites her audience into the life of a newly divorced woman.”
Joyful Magpies / 23 November 2019
Last November, Comedy Records released Blue Lights on digital platforms. It hit #1 on the iTunes Comedy Charts. Jackson tells me about the experiences that shaped her material.
“I went through two years of a very hard go. My father passed away, and I went through a divorce, all within that time frame. I went on a yoga retreat during all that. I didn’t know how to get out of the rut that I felt I was in.”
“As an artist, I felt I needed to write about my experience. What I love about writing a joke, it might feel really painful, but then it goes through a transition where you work it out on stage. Eventually, it becomes something not that you dealt with alone, but something the audience shares with you. Then, it’s out, and it’s gone. I can see why so many comedians write about their pain because it’s a catharsis.”
“I talk about my dad as well on the album. I find those jokes are the hardest ones to write. It’s a lot easier to write about my divorce because that feels like it’s in the past. I don’t even write about that anymore. It’s done with now. A dead parent never leaves you. I still try to revisit talking about him because my dad was so funny. He was the funniest person I ever met.”
Stay safe and stay cool!
We travel back to March.
Jackson and fellow comedian Clare Belford are excited to hit the road together. The Road Broads Tour has shows booked all across Western Canada. And then, after months of planning, Jackson and Belford break the news: “the Road Broads tour has been postponed.”
“That was a huge disappointment,” Jackson says.
“It was the middle of March,” and Jackson was working at Absolute Comedy in Ottawa. She drove to Ottawa with comedian Marito Lopez who was working at Yuk Yuk’s that weekend. March, Jackson says, is usually a “very busy” time for these venues. As the weekend passed, Jackson and Lopez “watched less and less people turn up each night.”
“As we left the city, it was like the whole city was shutting down. It felt like all the lights were shutting off. There were no lights in Ottawa. That’s how it felt for us.”
That same weekend, the JUNO Awards were cancelled.
Upon returning to Toronto, Jackson spoke with Belford. “She said, I don’t think this looks good. We need to make a plan.” Their manager told them to wait a few days before making a decision. “Finally, we were like, this isn’t safe.”
“All of a sudden, my world became very small. Before you knew the government was going to come up with financial assistance, you didn’t know how you were going to pay your bills. You go from this comic having a fair amount of work coming up to having zero work. It felt like going from a hundred to zero because I was going to be working every night in the month of April.”
Surely this comes as no surprise, but the Road Broads tour has been postponed. We will let you know as soon as we start rescheduling. In the mean time, stay safe and stay cool!
Clare and Dena
Road Broads (Facebook Page) / 28 March 2020
A workout for your mind
“Stillness is something that we might think we do every day, but in reality, unless we are practicing it consciously, we are not doing it. Stillness is something people try to achieve when they are practicing yoga or meditation. Stillness is always the goal because it allows you to go inside and see what’s going on internally.”
Dena Jackson, 90% of Yoga is Off the Mat (TEDx Talk)
Our conversation turns to stillness, a concept Jackson discusses in her TEDx Talk.
Our daily patterns came to a grinding halt with the pandemic. And here we are, ten months later, still living in stillness, stuck in a time of uncertainty and inactivity. It is no surprise then that people are trying to find new ways of keeping busy and maintaining their social relationships. People are seeking out alternatives to their regular distractions because they are spending a lot more time at home — alone with their thoughts.
“I think a lot of us have been terrified to be left alone with our thoughts because we have had so many distractions,” Jackson says. “We have been able to put enough things in place, so there’s enough distractions that we never have to spend that time going inward and letting emotions come up.”
“Because everything has slowed down and there is just less going on, I think more people want to do things like practice meditation.”
Where can people start? Jackson recommends downloading a meditation app. She likes Headspace. Wherever you start, though, start small.
“Commit to five minutes a day for the week. Don’t say you’re going to try an hour. That’s a really big commitment. Think of it like a workout for your mind. You’re not going to get muscles in the first month.”
“Today, everything moves at lightspeed. We have come to expect that from each other. We want instantaneous travel, technology, and responses from each other. In reality, human beings — we weren’t made that way. We weren’t made to live in fight-or flight mode all the time, and yet, we find ourselves there time and time again. This is hardly what I would call being our best selves.”
Dena Jackson, 90% of Yoga is Off the Mat
Given the current state of the live arts, with so much up in the air, I ask Jackson about her thoughts on pursuing comedy right now. What effect have these last few months had on her, professionally? Has she reconsidered her path at all?
“Yeah, I definitely have,” she says. “I think there was a period where I didn’t know if live comedy was going to come back at all. I think there are other comedians who felt that way. So yeah, I definitely thought, I don’t know where this is leading. And I still don’t know!”
Jackson has recognized a shift in her professional life as the pandemic continues, and she receives more and more requests to talk about mental health.
“I still love comedy. I am a comedian in my heart, and I will keep performing, but I do see that shift happen in my work without me being involved. It is what I have been asked to do at this time.”
Jackson is working on a novel, a project she started thirteen years ago.
“I started working on it more regularly, but then I went through the hard times, so I put a pin in it. The summer has been busy for me with work, but my plan for this winter is to finish it.”
Before we go, I ask Jackson if she has anything she would like to share with readers.
“Be kind to yourself. This is a really weird time. I think we all have such high expectations of ourselves. This time has asked us to slow down on that.”
“I’m excited because we just finished shooting a new music video,” Amanda Martinez says, speaking by phone from Toronto. We are in late September. Almost a year has passed since I first interviewed the singer-songwriter. In that interview, Martinez talked about her journey from knocking on doors to play in clubs around Toronto to performing sold-out shows across North America and releasing four studio albums in-between.
Estaba Cayendo is the new single from Martinez’s latest album, Libre. For the music video, she partnered with Adrián Ramírez Juárez and Akari Fujiwara, dancers from Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, and famed choreographer Debra Brown, best known for her decades-spanning career with Cirque du Soleil. The dancers had not worked together for months, and it was her first time meeting them. “It was certainly nice to be with everybody and doing something creative.”
Another music video is in the works — actually, it premieres tomorrow. Martinez wrote Liberame with good friend Kellylee Evans, a Juno Award-winning jazz vocalist, two years ago. Martinez and Evans recorded the song together for Libre. Over email, Martinez tells me that the music video had a small crew, with everyone wearing masks when they were not performing. About the song, Martinez says:
“[Liberame] is about being imprisoned by your own fear, and the music video conveys the idea of picking yourself up again and not being afraid to reach out for support. I am really proud of the music and the friendship and experience behind it. Kellylee and I have been through a lot together, and I have been so inspired by how she has overcome so many challenges with so much grace.”
Let’s go back to March
In her March newsletter, Martinez postponed her plans to launch Libre in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The album launch would have seen Martinez perform in New York, Cleveland, and Chicago.
“I had just finished getting my U.S. visa to travel,” Martinez says. “And then, we started hearing about how bad Covid was getting. The clubs were starting to shut down. We were waiting and waiting to hear what was going to happen. And then, I got a call from Ohio, and they said they were going to be closing until further notice, and that included my tour dates. Eventually, I was like, with everything that’s happening, I can’t see people going out.”
A flood of questions poured in for Martinez. “What are we going to do financially, and how long is this going on? What do I do with the album? Do I still launch it?” Martinez would launch her album in late October, but it would move forward without a tour.
Like many other artists, Martinez and her husband, Drew Birston, started playing livestream concerts. I ask Martinez if her April concert for the City of Toronto’s City Hall Live Online series was the first time she performed online. “It was actually. I had never done it before…and it was nerve-wracking.” The experience was very different for Martinez, a singer with twenty years of live performance under her belt. “But it was also fun to see people’s comments on the screen as they were watching us.”
The next month, Martinez performed a Cinco de Mayo concert for another livestream series, Canada Performs. I was lucky to catch the show, which I tell Martinez was a lot of fun to watch.
“That one I got to have a little tequila before we started!”
It would be several months until Martinez performed in-person for a live audience. Her first “real concert” was an outdoor and socially distanced private event. “It felt very healing to do that, versus performing from my phone in my living room.”
In these last eight months, Martinez says she has been doing more online yoga and cooking at home. “And I’m trying to do more artwork with my kids,” she says. “For me, it’s always a struggle to get them off the screen and engaged in other activities we can do together.”
I ask Martinez about the future, specifically if these eight months have made her reconsider her music career.
“Yeah, for sure. We are supporting a family of five. I definitely am considering all my options and relooking at things. It’s tough because I know that’s where my heart is. I’ve been out of doing anything else for the last twenty years. I also do some acting. I have had some acting auditions recently. I have had some shows air, too. I guess I just try to put as much faith in the future as possible and not worry because when I think practically, it doesn’t make sense.”
It is the end of October. A full year has now passed since my first interview with Martinez. She and I talk briefly over email about launching Libre in the United States. Since “everything is up in the air touring-wise,” the album launch will be all digital. Martinez is promoting the album through media interviews and her new music videos.
“The album will be available in stores through CEN/Sony Orchard, however, I won’t be giving any CD release concerts in person,” Martinez writes. “The album launch is different with the pandemic as it doesn’t involve any touring or traveling, which is where I have the chance to really connect with my audience. I love performing live and certainly miss this big part of the process!”
I ask Martinez what the album means to her and what she hopes people will get from listening to it.
“Libre was written with many different songwriters, and I hope that people will feel that sense of openness and freedom that I felt when we were making the album. I am grateful to all of the musicians who were involved and contributed to the spirit of the music, and I hope that the listener will hear the love that it was made with.”
When I spoke with Martinez last month, I asked her what she would like to achieve in the next few months. Launching her album was one answer, and writing new music was another. She also told me that working with the dancers from Canada’s Ballet Jörgen reawakened her love for dance. She would like to engage in collaborative songwriting with dancers and try incorporating the dancers into a live show.
As I look back on our first interview, I remember something Martinez said when she talked about landing her first gig in Toronto. It stuck with me after the interview ended. I knew I had to highlight it when I published the blog post. And I think about it again now with Martinez’s album launching tomorrow.
“When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me.”
July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe (Facebook Live) Devon More or Less
We certainly now know that being a human on this planet is to play a team sport, whether you want to or not. Remember earlier this year in lockdown when we all stuck together by staying apart? Kind of like that. It was a pretty ripe time, if you’re a solo show creator, to wander through some potential framing devices. I’m certainly not the only one. I just can’t help myself. I wrote a song about it. Maybe this was my attempt to write the future back in April.
You won’t believe what I see Venus, it’s so brightly chasing the sun over yonder Put down the phone and just get on the road You’ve got to come over to catch the last of the sunset on the deck
Absence won’t make my heart any fonder Don’t make me beg you when you know what you want to do You want to come over When will you be over?
Maybe in the month of May May should be okay Can’t you wait until May? Okay.
January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview
“I actually measured myself recently, and I am exactly 6-foot and a half inch,” Devon More says, speaking by phone from Kamloops, British Columbia. “You can post that loud and proud. Maybe less so the age.”
I ask the 36-year-old singer-songwriter if she is sensitive about her age.
“I am not really sensitive about it. But I have been warned by other women about the invisibility cloak that falls on you once you’re over 40, particularly as a female on stage. Maybe I’m sensitive about that? But, also, no. Fuck it. I’m trying to be an alternate representation of femininity, and proudly aging is a statement I could happily make.”
More and I met five years ago at the Calgary Fringe Festival, where she presented her one-woman show, Berlin Waltz. Following the show’s final performance, she kindly agreed to an impromptu interview. In our interview, More talked about the inspiration behind Berlin Waltz, planting new ideas through live performance, and working the Canadian fringe festival circuit.
In the years since we last spoke, More has developed two new solo works. Flute Loops premiered in 2018, with Hits Like a Girl premiering the following year.
I ask More to (re)introduce herself and her work.
“The most succinct description I have come up with is sonic storytelling,” she says. “The shows that I put together are not a play, but they are more than a concert. I like to combine live music and lyrical musings on a given topic to create a live music experience that also has a storyline, and that is also tactical. Musically, I think I’ve started calling it protest pop. There are catchy melodies, but there is some lyrical depth in there that is hoping to open your mind and plant some food for thought.”
The last line brings me back to something More said in our first interview:
“It’s amazing if people give you an hour of their time in a world where seven seconds into a YouTube video clip if it’s not entertaining, then you’re onto the next page, right? So, a full hour of time seems like a wasted opportunity to bring people into a room without trying to give them something [that they] can marinate on later.”
The quote remains “absolutely” true for More, whose research for Hits Like a Girl shed light on the relationship between the brain and live performance.
“I did a lot of reading for it. If a person is sharing a story, particularly one that is emotional, the areas of the brain that light up in the storyteller, those exact same areas are engaged in the listener as well. To bring people in a room and put them through a live experience together, you are all syncing up your brain waves. I think I have gotten better at making it an experience that when you leave, you have something to talk about together or to relate to from your own experience as a human.”
May 7, 2020 — Facebook Post Devon More Music
“Day 50: the finish line for my music marathon!”
April 17, 2020 — Phone Interview
Let’s talk about your daily livestreams. On the 27th, it’ll be a month that you’ve been livestreaming. What made you decide you wanted to perform on Facebook Live?
There’s so much media out there right now. It’s overwhelming. The numbers. The stats. The gloom and doom. And people are spending a lot of time on their screens because of lockdown. I wanted to put something out there that is not gloom and doom, and that is not a perfectly polished Netflix series. It’s real. It’s live. It’s genuine. It’s a different form of live connection.
And to be honest, I tend towards hyperproductivity. It’s a little bit of a coping mechanism for me, too, because this is what I love to do, play music. It has given me more structure than I have had in the last several years of my life. This month, I am practicing my craft every day. I am noticing an improvement. I have a routine because of it. Just the sheer luxury of leaving my stuff set up in my parents’ living room, which I have completely taken over. I’m not packing my gear in and out of my car or driving from place to place. I’m trying to view things through as positive of a lens as possible. I can also hope that it is helpful to the people who tune in.
It’s important to have those commitments, so the days don’t blend together. It’s too easy to say: I guess I’ll melt into the couch or stay in bed today.
Or scroll through until you read all the terrible articles about COVID-19 from around the world.
It’s cool that I have heard back from people who I am now part of their routine. During yesterday’s live feed, someone said: “It’s Devon o’clock.”
We have talked before about people giving you their time. This is like — I am inviting you into my home, and my life, because you’re on my screen.
Yeah. It’s a little unnerving to start because when you are broadcasting your rehearsal every day, it’s not always up to the level of performance standard that I would normally hold myself to, you know. That’s been interesting, too. That’s been interesting to let go of some of my perfectionism. You are learning things as you go. You are going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. That’s part of it, too.
Everyone’s really winging it right now. Do we wear masks in stores? Should I disinfect my groceries? How do I deal with this?
We are just doing our best. That’s a healthy mindset. We are typically afraid of making mistakes. I don’t know if we talked about this in January, but we don’t have the social framework to own up to our mistakes, to welcome them as opportunities for growth. Right now, we are going to make mistakes as we work our way through this. That’s part of the process. Be kind to each other. If I can model some of the ways we fail as humans on a musical scale, and show people that that’s okay, then wonderful.
July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe Devon More or Less
I can’t wait to show you the garden’s been growing Exploding with blossoms and clover Come have a cup of tea, lay on the grass with me I would love you to come over So, come on, just come on right over
Maybe in June June, it’s coming soon Can’t you wait till June? Okay.
It took awhile to find that album on vinyl Arriving by special order And I can’t wait to listen You won’t be missing out if you come right over So, won’t you come over?
Maybe in July July should be just fine Can’t you wait till July? Fine.
April 17, 2020 — Phone Interview
In January, we talked about your online expansion.
I’m still working on it. It’s funny, isn’t it? I’m grateful that I was in that headspace already. If you are not forced into it, then it’s harder to make those shifts under duress. Now you have to move your job online.
I had gotten to the end of my term house sitting. Rather than feeling like I had built my foundation, I had opened the door to understanding how to build the foundation. I was in this space of — this is a bigger undertaking than I thought. Maybe it’s not going to be fun along the way.
Then, this pandemic happened. Well, no better time to jump in fully. I would not have signed up to livestream daily for a month pre-pandemic. I don’t know if anyone would have cared if I did — a lesson in being open to opportunities as they arise. It’s a dream to work on the creative side of the craft. If I look at it as a rogue residency than a lockdown, great, I have this space where I can do that.
Are you in Kamloops right now?
I came up to spend the ski season here. I had the opportunity to house sit for four and a half months in my hometown, which I haven’t spent much time here since I left in 2008. So, I already had a weird déjà voodoo winter.
In mid-March, the snowbirds came back sooner than expected. Everything changed so quickly. I moved my gear into my parents’ house, and I have been here ever since. I feel like I have manifested an alternate timeline of my teenage years, and I am living it out. It is way better, twenty years later, being a teenager. One, I am an only child this time around. Normally, I am a middle child. Also, my parents are retired now. They have a lot of time and freedom as well, so they are quite creative. My dad has a keyboard. My mom and I sit down in the mornings and do a free write. The snacks have gotten way better since I was an actual teenager. My parents have Brazil nuts and dark chocolate…! I find it amusing: for all the strange places I spent my 20s in, I am right back in my parents’ house for the end of days.
January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview
Our conversation turns to the fringe festival.
Since premiering Silent Party Interlude at the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival, More has become an audience favourite on the fringe circuit. Her one-woman shows have earned critical praise from numerous media outlets, including a nod from the 2016 Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards (Nominee: Berlin Waltz, Best Creative Concept).
Although rewarding, fringe festivals demand a lot from artists, something More explained to me in our first interview:
“The fringe is…I’ve never worked so hard for meager returns, but you know it’s amazing,” said More about the fringe experience. “Professional development pays for itself — so don’t make me seem like I’m money hungry! But you spend so much time on the fringe working, selling, trying to promote, trying to get people excited about your show…I just couldn’t…you really need to care about, at least I do, what you’re trying to sell to be able to maintain that level of involvement with it.”
Curious to know if the seasoned fringe performer feels the same way, I ask More if the years of experience under her belt have made the process any easier.
“It’s such a wonderful moment for us to have this conversation for me,” More says. “I will preface this by saying: I have applied to zero fringe festivals for 2020, and I don’t intend to. I learned so much. What I love about the fringe is you have to do it all. You can’t just do the fun, creative parts. We love it, the first ten percent of the process. We don’t necessarily love writing a press release, or hammering out your elevator pitch, or trying to make a show standout. You have to do it all to make it work on the fringe.”
More tells me that yes, in some ways, working the fringe became easier as she built an “incredible toolkit” over the years. Name recognition, in addition to effective marketing, helped when returning to familiar territory. It is a big compliment as an artist, More says, when audiences come back years after the initial performance. “Let’s see what you want to talk about this time.”
Nonetheless, More feels it necessary to remove herself from the fringe circuit so she can focus more time and energy on building her career. Would she ever perform at the fringe again? Yes, but only if she felt a “burning” desire to tell a story through that platform. For now, More would like to grow her online presence.
“There’s an interesting equilibrium to maintain as a live performer. The live show needs to be good. You also need a strong online presence. It’s like your resume. It reached a point where my online presence was so out-of-date with what I was doing live that I wasn’t getting the live bookings I should have been getting. That’s what I’m in the process of doing now, entering this different arena, taking what I learned fringing and independently producing, and applying those skills to catch up with the content that needs to be online.”
Although there is something beautiful about live art “disappearing into the ether” (aside from a few reviews and distinctions), it is simply not practical from the standpoint of a creative professional who only has so much time and energy to invest in projects. “Even though it’s just this digital universe, there is something more lasting about the work you can distribute there.”
Looking ahead, More says there is “a lot of foundational work that needs to be done.” Her priorities are expanding her email list and setting up methods that allow the performer to better connect with fans. One way More plans on connecting with fans is through Patreon, an online subscription platform where fans can support creators and receive exclusive content.
April 27, 2020— Facebook Live Lockdown Living Room Show
Now, if you have been tuning in at all, I have been on a livestream marathon. I have been livestreaming twice a day for, it’ll be six weeks on Thursday. And maybe some of you are wondering why? Why do I livestream compulsively? That’s fair. It’s a good question. I ask myself this daily. It’s a three-part answer. Number one, it’s cheap therapy for me. Playing music makes me feel better, even if no one is watching my Instagram feed. I start my day by singing three songs, that’s reason enough. Number two, routine. I have more structure in my life right now than I have had in a few years. That’s kinda cool. And the third reason is, it prevents me from going completely feral during quarantine. Probably better for my roommates and I if I continue livestreaming. When I say roommates, I mean my parents.
But why I do this, this art thing? It’s out of a desire to communicate, I think.
July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe Devon More or Less
I would never overlook That I borrowed your book I read it from cover to cover As quick as a flash, I’ll deliver it back as soon as I can come over So, can’t I come over?
Maybe in August In August, we trust In August, in August You promised, you promised
August, in August In August, we trust, in August You promised You promised You promised August
January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview
“I want to make commentary in my work,” More says. “I don’t really consider myself to be an entertainer. What I do is entertaining, but what motivates me is not just being under stage lights but communicating something I think is of value. It appeals to me to spend more time working online so I can make more topical commentary.”
Developing her online presence is not just for the benefit of distributing music and commentary more efficiently. There is also the social element of fans coming along for the ride.
“It’s lonely a lot of what I do. There’s not the same kind of checklists in independent art that there are in other career trajectories that tell you how you’re doing. I have so much appreciation for the people who continue to follow what I do, and particularly for the people who tell me what they like or don’t about my work. Those conversations are so valuable to me that I am motivated to create a way to have them more regularly with people. Here’s what I’m working on that you won’t be able to see for a year or so, but you can still know the stage of the process that I am in.”
April 27, 2020— Facebook Live Lockdown Living Room Show
I’m learning a thing or two about what it means to livestream. What is the difference between this and a real show? I mean, I’m so glad you’re here. This is a real show. I have had these 4:30 showtimes on the fringe. I will just say: there is no way I would have gotten this many people in a house. Thanks for being here.
April 17, 2020 — Phone Interview
But what a time to be a mythmaker, a storyteller, a creator. I have been trying to have these conversations with my fellow creators. We are staying in touch. We have a few accountability partnerships going on. We are trying to be productive during this time as well. It’s okay to want to pull the covers over your head some days, but I think everyone, as we move through this and towards whatever our new reality is going to be, should be considering the stories we choose to tell — our power as storytellers. Draw peoples’ attention to some bigger philosophical questions or deeper values, the sort of things that we can use as catalysts for positive change, rather than the beginning of a terrible end.
That is something we talked about back in January. You said: “We need boredom on a global scale to creatively think about how we can better look after each other and the planet.”
Did I? That’s quite prophetic.
July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe Devon More or Less
You’d never guess but I’m getting my rest And I bet you don’t look a day older Don’t forget when we last met, more or less, You said that I should come over So, can’t I come over? Maybe in September Things will all be better in September Till then remember that you’re first on my list of faces to kiss As soon as all of this is finally over
January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview
“I think where the world is right now, it would be helpful if everyone took a hard look at their personal values,” More says. “What is it that is actually fulfilling to me? If you are honest with yourself, it’s not the stuff. It’s not materialism. People want meaningful human connection. If we could simplify our personal values to what really brings us joy as human beings, then we could let go of some of our materialism, slow down the pace of this insane consumption-based economy we live in, and just take a breather.”
“We need boredom on a global scale to creatively think about how we can better look after each other and the planet. Sooner rather than later, let’s start having those tough discussions.”
August 7, 2020 — Surrey Civic Theatres‘ Digital Stage (YouTube) Write the Future
Hello, welcome to the show. I’m Devon More, and I make music. I am the show. It’s just me and you at a safe distance. Our show starts with a question: how do you feel about the status quo?
April 17, 2020 — Phone Interview
Let’s go back to your live show, the living room show on April 27th. You set it as your goal. You are playing every day, but this is the show.
This is the show!
I think that’s so cool. That’s something we talked about in January. You were working on new material. You wanted to get back into the writing and share things that had been in your back catalogue.
I did one show on March 30th, which I had selected because there were the fewest possible conflicts with other livestream events. There are a lot of grants floating around, in theory, for people who are livestreaming concerts. Like most grant funding, it seems easier than it is to actually get the dollars in your hand. I had been working on a setlist for some house concerts that I had coming up.
In the meantime, I have been exploring the livestreaming. I think it’s important to set that goal to have something ready. And also for people who want to tune in only once. If you are interested in the process, tune in every day, and you will get to catch the livelooped musical car wrecks and mistakes and really unexpected good surprises that happen. Sometimes things just go off the rails when you are mixing on the fly with all these different instruments and effects. But I also want to maintain my professional standards in terms of what I consider performance ready, and so I think I will try to do once every two weeks. We’ll see how long it goes on, right?
July 17, 2020 — Virtually Yours, #WpgFringe Devon More or Less
I’m sorry to bug you, but I need a hug And I just cannot wait until October Don’t make me wait until October Can I just come over?
January 16, 2020 — Phone Interview
“I talked so much. I have been feeling very philosophical lately, so when you reached out, I was like: oh, do I have some thoughts to share.”
April 27, 2020— Facebook Live Lockdown Living Room Show
Alright, friends. Thank you for joining me on this Monday afternoon. If you ever need a break from the headlines, this is where I’ll be. 4:30 on Facebook. 10 a.m. on Instagram. Take care of yourselves. Try not to worry about the future. Wonder about the future. And look after yourselves.
Meg MacKay’s Probably a Witch is a new release from Howl & Roar Records.
Meg MacKay is a Toronto-based comedian originally from the land of “sentient jean jackets,” otherwise known as Prince Edward Island. Her debut comedy album, Probably a Witch, released earlier this month on streaming platforms.
Listening to Probably a Witch brings me back to the days of watching Comedy Now! late at night on CTV. I had a 27” CRT TV in my room that I had placed on top of a homemade bookshelf. The bookshelf buckled under the weight of that TV. I don’t know how it never collapsed. Anyway, I would stay up way past my bedtime to watch Comedy Now! As someone not from a major city and who had never gone to a comedy show, watching this program kinda whisked me away to another reality. I was also a teenager, so there was that element of participating in something cool and mature.
Why I bring up Comedy Now! is because the stand-up acts were often so funny and weird. Emphasis on weird. You felt drawn into a rabbit hole, especially watching it late at night. That’s how I feel about MacKay’s Probably a Witch. MacKay’s delivery is very Maritime-y. It’s a bit calm and measured with moments that swing up, and she’s putting on all sorts of wacky voices. It’s like we’re having a barbecue, playing washer toss, and then MacKay comes to the party with the laughs. We all forget about the burgers on the grill because everyone’s too busy listening to MacKay talk about spoons class and Britney Spears’ three career phases.
Look, I’ve listened to this album three or five times already, and I’ll probably listen to it a couple more times. It’s friggin’ hilarious, man. MacKay talking about her super tough mom (“I didn’t raise a wuss!”) at a pride parade is a roar. Give the album a listen.