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.
Mistress T published her memoir, There Is More To The Story, in 2018. It is available on Amazon (Paperback/Kindle) and Audible.
In true Maritime fashion, the first thing Mistress T and I talk about is the weather.
It is a bitterly cold afternoon in January. News Year’s Eve is now two weeks past. “Did you grow up in New Brunswick?” she asks, speaking by phone from her home in Vancouver. “I hear a bit of the accent.” The fetish porn star recognizes the accent, of course, having grown up in rural Nova Scotia. She may not live on the East Coast anymore (it has been over twenty years), but if you listen closely enough, you can hear her accent, too.
Growing up, Mistress T dreamed of becoming an actress. “I did every opportunity for plays at church and school,” she says. There was just one problem — she did not want to be famous. “I didn’t want the paparazzi following me around.” Eventually, Mistress T gave up on her dream. “You can’t be a really good actress and not have your life under a microscope, so I put that away.”
In 2008, Mistress T launched her production studio and began producing adult fetish content. Since starting her business, she has filmed and appeared in over two thousand videos. Yes, that’s right. Two thousand videos. Although her videos explore a variety of themes, Mistress T’s content is always grounded in femdom (female domination).
Mistress T walks me through her filming process.
It begins with a story, often inspired by her fans. “My fans are prolific in telling me what they like and what they are into,” Mistress T says. “I get into their minds and find out what they like.” With a story in mind, Mistress T sets up the camera and begins filming what she imagines as a two-sided dialogue. “Sometimes with pornography, it’s almost like the camera is a voyeur, catching a scene that is happening. With my stuff, the viewer is right there. I imagine that the camera is the person, and the lens is their eye. I want the viewer to feel like I am making eye contact with them.”
I ask Mistress T if her videos, many of which run longer than ten minutes, are scripted or outlined at all.
“Nothing, no scripts,” she says. “I have done this hundreds and hundreds of times. I can start with a theme and build it from there.”
Because she runs her business independently, Mistress T wears more than one hat when it comes to producing content. “You have complete control over everything,” she says. “You decide when you work and how things get done. I’m not a perfectionist, but I like things done my way.” The downside? “You have to do everything.” In addition to filming, Mistress T is responsible for editing her videos. The adult performer also spends time answering emails (which include inquiries about custom videos) and managing marketing.
“I am a one-woman show.”
The last time Mistress T stepped on stage was a few years ago at a storytelling competition. “I didn’t set out to do that,” she says. That night, event organizers wanted audience members to get on stage and tell a story. A random draw would decide the participants. The event, unfortunately, was not well-attended. When the hat made its way to Mistress T, the event organizers begged her to enter her name. “Oh, okay. I’ll put my name in the hat.” Guess who got called up? “I got called up. I told one of the stories from my book — the first time I went to a BDSM sex club — and I won the competition.”
The experience had a profound impact on Mistress T.
“When I stood up on that stage, and I turned, the light was in my face, and I had the microphone in my hand, and there were people in the audience. I was just like — oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be on a stage with a microphone in my hand. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing — if I’m supposed to be educating or entertaining, but this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Mistress T is currently developing a one-woman show called Conversations With Peggy. The play explores her relationship with an elderly, visually impaired woman whom she has assisted for the last three years. The adult performer describes the show as heartwarming and hilarious while promoting social change — destigmatizing sex work.
It would not be the first time Mistress T shared details of her personal life to help destigmatize sex work. Since 2011, the adult performer has maintained a blog where she writes openly about her life, past and present, and a variety of topics, like aging in the industry. Then, in 2016, Mistress T began work on her memoir, There Is More To The Story. Readers of the blog enjoyed updates on the book, released in late 2018. It is a compelling read, with its humour and frank reflections. Mistress T narrates the audiobook. It is an emotionally gripping performance from the fetish porn star, who travels through the chapters of her life and muses on “human connection” and “the flawed families who make us who we are.”
“People are like — why would you write a book like this? It’s so vulnerable,” Mistress T says. “And I’m like, yeah, that’s the point. For people to see sex workers as human, you have to make yourself vulnerable. Let them see that you’ve gone through some stuff. You’ve suffered. You’ve prevailed. You’re just like everybody else. You have hopes and dreams and disappointments and heartbreak. I think it’s important for us to destigmatize sex work in an effort to decriminalize and make it safer. I’m sort of throwing myself under the bus to move things in the right direction.”
Mistress T is seeking dramaturgical support for Conversations With Peggy, as well as guidance on touring.
“I’m looking for someone who knows about doing amateur theatre across Canada and beyond,” she says. “It would be amazing for me to tour a one-woman show around North America. Not just at fringe festivals but different venues around the world. That would be really cool for me. That’s what I’m working towards.”
In the meantime, Mistress T is busy writing a second book, a work of fiction about a dominatrix serial killer.
“Very few people in the scheme of things know who I am,” Mistress T says. “But those who do respect what I have done. I can go to the grocery store. I can walk out in the street. No one’s taking my picture. No one’s asking me for my autograph. In a way, I got what I wanted — my childhood dream.”
There Is More To The Story is available on Amazon(Paperback/Kindle) and Audible.
Last week, Howl & Roar Records released Rebecca Reeds’ debut comedy albumBuddy. The Toronto-based comedian has performed at theWinnipeg Comedy Festival, Ottawa Fringe Festival, and JFL42. You may also know Reeds from her podcast,The Villain Was Right, which she co-hosts with Craig Fay. Buddy was recorded live at Bad Dog Theatre.
Yes, Reeds is fully aware of her accent. Where’s it from? Nowhere special. Just a “lack of education.” I want to say something about her “hillbilly” accent. In 2019, I listened to a lot of Stuart McLean in the car. The Vinyl Cafe makes the drive from Fredericton to Truro feel like almost nothing. Back to my point. A light bulb went off in my head about ten minutes into Buddy. “Rebecca Reeds sounds a lot like Stuart McLean!” Hearing Reeds talk about fishing with her dad brought me back to The Vinyl Cafe. Only, I don’t think Canada’s Storyteller ever compared fishing with guys striking out at a bar (“Lesbians all night!”).
Reeds is a hell of a storyteller. The comedian spills her secrets on being poor, working at Zellers, and finding hamburgers inside her pocket. As the youngest of four children, I share the same gripe with Reeds when it comes to hand-me-downs. Why do they always come in trash bags? “Here you go, you human landfill!”
It’s the first day of 2020. Maybe you’re hungover. Maybe you’re eating cold pizza for breakfast. I don’t know. However the new year looks right now, why not start it off with a laugh? Rebecca Reeds’ Buddy is dynamite.
Originally from Vaugh, Ontario, Olivia Stadler is a Toronto-based comedian and aspiring screenwriter. Photo Credit: @jokespleaseshow on Instagram.
Olivia Stadler is a Toronto-based comedian and aspiring screenwriter. The 25-year-old former competitive dancer earned a Bachelor’s degree in Media, Information, and Technoculture from the University of Western Ontario. Last fall, Stadler entered UCLA’s Film and Screenwriting program. She hosts and producesLiterally Dead. The comedy show runs the first Saturday of every month at Comedy Bar.
Last month, Joyful Magpies spoke with Stadler about starting in comedy, her career aspirations, and women in entertainment.
How do stand-up comedy and screenwriting fit together?
Stand-up comedy has helped me learn how to write jokes. Stand-up comics will write down every funny idea. It’s a weird thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. If you have an idea that comes into your head, you have to write it down, or else it’s gone. My notes — I have upwards of a thousand notes. Some of them are so useless. Some of them make me laugh, but I have never figured out them out as a stage joke. Later, I figure out — oh, this is dialogue. You write down every funny idea, and then you figure out places to plug them in after.
And when you perform stand-up, you receive immediate feedback on your material.
How do you handle feedback?
Poorly. I handle it very poorly. On the outside, I’m good. I don’t make anyone feel weird. I let it sit on my shoulders, though, but I think everyone is like that.
It also depends on who it’s coming from. Like if it’s well-thought criticism and coming from one of my friends who understands what I’m going for on stage. Sometimes people will give you feedback, and it’ll be like okay, but that’s you. Someone the other day said to me you get into talking about cum way too fast. It’s a totally clean comic. And I’m like you don’t talk about cum at all, that’s my criticism for you!
Are you transitioning from stand-up comedy to TV writing?
When I was in my third year of university, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at all. Going into first year, I wanted to be a news reporter. I liked the idea of being on TV and talking for a job. That would be me. I didn’t realize you would have to do journalism first. You do that forever. You have to be passionate about that. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I wanted. I’ll be a writer of some sort because that’s what I like doing.
My roommate in third year was a huge TV nerd. Growing up, I never watched TV because I was a dancer. After school, I would go straight to dance, and then come home, do my homework, and go to sleep. I watched TV with my roommate. I fell in love with TV.
I got into The Mindy Project. It one of the first shows I got into. I’m always Googling and IMDBing when I’m watching TV. I got obsessed with Mindy Kaling’s story. She was a TV writer first then got into comedy. That’s how she got into creating her own TV show. I want to be like that.
Then, it clicked. I want to be a TV writer.
I remember that day I had dance. I was really dreading dance at that point in my life. I loved it growing up. It made me realize that I like performing. I didn’t like dancing in class. I didn’t like technique. I didn’t care about feeling the movement. I started to dread it in university. I didn’t go to dance that day. And then, I stopped showing up.
This is going to be my new identity.
That’s when I started trying to write things down. Looking back on everything I wrote in those days is very awful, but it was a start. I bought a bunch of books. I learned if you want to be a TV writer, you need to learn how to articulate comedy, so try doing stand-up or improv. I signed up at Second City for improv and stand-up classes. I fell in love with stand-up. I kept doing it. I like this. I have a knack for it, so I just kept doing it. And now I’m here.
I’m only in my second year of doing stand-up. In my first year, I focused solely on doing stand-up. Then, I realized I needed something else because no one makes money from just performing stand-up comedy. I applied for the UCLA program. I got in, and I was psyched. I started doing that. This feels right. I’m so glad to be doing this. And I have been doing it since.
You just spoke about how dance turned from a passion to a grind. With comedy and writing, has that happened to you?
If I’ve stopped enjoying it?
Yeah. I love writing, but sometimes I’m like this sucks. I feel like I’m going through the motions. Why do I do this? But then there are those moments that make you like it again. Oh, I remember why I like doing this.
I find that it goes in waves so much.
I started panicking the other day because I’m a server right now. I don’t know when I’ll ever have a TV writing job, so I think I should try to get a full-time marketing or social media job. Something I’m qualified to do with my degree. Then, I was looking at all these jobs, and I was like — oh, I don’t remember how to do anything. Comedy has been my life for two years. I don’t remember anything before that. I have put all of my time and energy into harnessing this skill set, so I probably have to make something with this work.
Shortly afterward, I called my agent. I reminded him that I want to be a writer. He said: okay, these are the things you need. Oh, I basically already have all these things. Great. We’ll start setting up meetings. Because of that, I’m able to find my way into meetings with TV writers.
I’m just doing the work. I don’t really know what the end goal is that I’m working towards. It is cool to see some of the work, which often feels arbitrary, paying off and that things are starting to fall into place. My dreams are going to come true, hopefully.
In the creative fields, there are so many things that are not tangible. Everything is so abstract, like a theatre production. You rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. The final product doesn’t really come together until opening night.
It is interesting what you find rewarding as an artist, because it’s not always tangible, as you said. That phone call with my agent meant a lot to me. It made me feel satisfied in a way that nothing really has in awhile. I can’t really — I told people about that conversation. And they were like okay, cool. That conversation means nothing for anyone else. It’s just validation for myself that I’m on the right track.
Let’s talk about this track you’re on. You’ve been doing stand-up comedy for two years while also pursuing screenwriting. How have you been carving your path? Do you visualize it as an uphill battle? How do you see the road ahead?
Honestly, not really. I feel like this is the first thing I have ever done in my life where I haven’t had to consciously think about what my steps are to establishing myself. I want to do it, so I ended up doing it. I want to do comedy every night. I want to put in a lot of effort. I want to be good at it. From that, you make a name for yourself. I’m doing the thing I want to do. It’s adding up.
I guess the one conscious thing you have to do if you want to carve out a positive image for yourself is staying out of drama, that’s the hard part.
Do you find that’s easier some days than others? You’re very active on Twitter.
That’s different. Wait, what do you mean?
I’m on Twitter, and someone says something dumb. I want to call them out, but then I’m like I don’t know if I should get involved.
Usually, when I talk about drama, it’s something that’s happening on Facebook. It’s something that’s happened in real life, in the comedy scene, and then someone has posted about it. Everyone comments their take on it. That’s the stuff you got to try to stay out of. You have to silently observe instead.
Comics are weirdly less active on Twitter than they are on Facebook, which is so dumb. You’re not gonna go viral on Facebook. Why are you wasting all your energy and time on Facebook? You could be creating a writing portfolio for yourself on Twitter. You could be getting followers and potential fans.
That’s how you see your Twitter profile, a writing portfolio?
Yeah, kind of. A diary. A log of my mental illness. All of the above.
I remember back when I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I spent a lot of time on Twitter. I remember feeling like it was productive for some reason. Then, I realized — oh yeah, I’m learning how to write jokes. It was probably the most productive thing I could have been doing.
That was the phase where I was like I need followers on this site. I followed everyone who seemed to be in the surrounding area and anyone who liked Toronto comics’ tweets.
Thanks for the follow back.
It’s such an odd thing, don’t you think? When people get upset if someone doesn’t follow them back. Do you ever feel that?
I don’t care on Twitter. I get it on Twitter. On Twitter, it’s mostly about content. I want to read someone’s tweets, and maybe they don’t want to read my tweets.
Instagram is the in-between point of Twitter and Facebook. When you follow someone on Instagram, it’s more like a friend request than it is a follow. You kind of expect the reciprocation there. When people don’t follow you back on Instagram, I find that it hurts a lot more than on Twitter. It is so weird.
Whenever I wake up and check the app that tells you who unfollowed you it puts me in such a bad mood. Even though it’s like — yeah, people should be unfollowing me if they don’t like my content.
You have an app that tells you who unfollowed you?
Yup, I know. It’s bad. I guess I have it because there’s a bunch of people I don’t want to follow, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings by unfollowing them. I should just delete the app and unfollow people I don’t want to follow. That’s my reasoning. It’s still not really logical.
You know what it is, you and I grew up with social media. I’ve had a Facebook account since Grade 9.
How old are you?
So, we are around the same age.
When I mention it to older comedians who are in their 30s, they’re like Instagram doesn’t matter. It’s the only thing that matters, actually. First of all, no one that’s not a comedian uses Facebook, unless you’re in your 80s. Your posters on Bloor Street West, no one is seeing your poster. Everyone is seeing what you’re posting on Instagram. Everyone spends all of their time scrolling through Instagram. It doesn’t make sense to not take it seriously. It’s weird to me.
I used to have a boyfriend who would always ask me what I was thinking about and it made me very insecure about the fact that I’m never thinking about anything
That one bothered me because it was so formulaic that I’m like, eh, anyone could have thought of this. It just wouldn’t be the tweet I would choose to go viral. “Bisexual means you’ve had sex twice.” It’s formulaic, but I guess it works.
Tell me about your monthly show Literally Dead. The show runs the first Saturday of every month at Comedy Bar. You’ve been doing it for almost a year now.
December will be the 12-month mark. We actually just got renewed for a full year.
How did you manage to get the timeslot?
I produced a few one-off shows that were sold-out and successful. And then I asked Gary Rideout, who owns Comedy Bar, if I could have a regular slot. He offered me a few Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Honestly, I would rather host a weekend show. I know everyone would rather have a weekend show, but I would like to hold out if something becomes available. I waited long enough and eventually, something became available. I’m glad I waited for it.
The whole first year felt like a trial. He was only giving me a month at a time. And now, I have the full year, so I can finally relax about that.
Can you talk about the work that goes into Literally Dead?
That’s definitely the hardest part. That’s the skill set that doesn’t come from doing comedy. I don’t feel like I’ve completely mastered it yet. I just plaster my social media with everything related to the show. I try talking with audience members after the show, too. We have a lot of repeat audience members.
I’m still trying to figure it out because this is the part of comedy that I have found the most challenging. It’s really meaningful for me to put on a good show because there’s not a lot of good shows in this city. Not as many as you would think. A show will have a cool poster. You’ll go, and there’ll only be two audience members. Or it’s cancelled. It’s just crazy how much time and money will be put into a poster when you should be putting money into advertising and making sure the show is good.
There’s so much talent in the city that I want to showcase.
What kind of talent do you book?
I try to book a super diverse line up. Shows are way more interesting when your lineup has a bunch of diverse voices and perspectives. I have new comics. I have queer comics. There are people of colour. A good balance of men and women.
Photo Credit: Darcy Stewart.
What are some future projects you have planned?
There are so many things I want to do. I’m working on a podcast with my best friend, Allie Pearse. When Allie and I launch the podcast, we are going to do a comedy show in celebration of the launch. We’ll do a live podcast along the way.
I was going to do a fringe show with my friend Sam. It was going to be about dance. We’re still thinking about that.
Do you miss dance?
I do. I’m starting to miss dance now. I think I stretched it out for too long. It was at my peak when I was 18. And then I feel like instead of keeping at as a happy memory in my past, I stretched it out for too long and grew to dislike it. I actually really miss it lately.
Next semester, we are going to be working on a pilot. My idea is going to have to do with dance. If I ever have my own TV show in the future, It would be about dance. There are three girls in my family. We always went to the same dance studio. I would be the main character, obviously. The show would be about being a young dancer.
You are a few years into your entertainment career. Looking ahead, how do you feel about the state of Canadian entertainment? Are you optimistic or a realist?
I oscillate a lot between both of those. I’m good friends with Sandra Battaglini. I admire her so much for what she’s trying to do for Canadian comedy. It would be nice to stay in Canada where my friends and family are and to be able to make a living here. But I am also realistic about the fact that I will probably have to move to the states. I’m optimistic about that idea. I think it would be cool to go and conquer a new city.
It also depends. As you said, I’m still so new. I don’t have to think about that much right now. I’m just trying to do as much as I can in this city and hone my craft. It would be at least five years before I even thought about moving to the states if that’s what I had to do. Who knows? Maybe Canadian comedy will change in those five years, and I’ll get to stay here.
There’s people that want to be famous, and they’ll say you have to move. There are people happy to make a living. I don’t know which one I’ll be five years. When everyone starts, they want to be famous. You have so much hope. I don’t know where I’ll be in a few years. Right now, I want to shoot for the stars. I’m always daydreaming about how far I can get. Maybe that will change. I don’t know, I just want to be happy. I just want to do my craft and feel fulfilled.
Is that an awkward conversation within the community?
I find that people are judgmental towards those who choose to leave. They’ll be like that person is not ready yet. Who cares? People in New York and Los Angeles are starting with zero experience. Either way, you have to start from the bottom when you move to the states. It’s a weird thing.
In any other industry, people tell you to bullshit your way to getting things. I find that people will get mad at people if they do a longer set than they’re ready to do or accept a festival before they’re ready. None of this really matters. There are so many shitty people on TV. Why not accept a stepping stone? I don’t know. I think people are so self-loathing in this industry.
In sports, a lot of it is objective. This guy can run a minute faster than me. He should be picked over me. You have no such metrics in the creative fields.
That’s right. There is no metric. It’s all subjective.
In any industry, it’s not always the best people who rise to the top. It’s not a fair system. Nothing is ever going to be fair. People are going to get things that they don’t deserve, and other people will get screwed over. You got to learn to play the game. People are so hung up on justice in comedy — what you deserve, what you don’t deserve.
People are adamant that you have to be completely at the top of Canadian comedy when you leave. That seems like a harder fall. Once you get to the top of the rankings, I feel like it would be harder to move. I’m already doing well here. Why move? You are older, which I try to tell myself doesn’t matter, but I’m a woman in entertainment. If I’m going to move to the states, then I’d like to do it sooner than later.
Could you elaborate on that?
As most women do, I struggle with self-esteem and all that. I have a hard time with that kind of stuff. Sometimes I’ll get panic attacks. Your Netflix special better be when you’re still pretty. Wouldn’t I rather be funnier than prettier in my Netflix special? Why would that not matter more? Having been told your whole life that it matters how you look, it’s hard to undo that, especially when it is true. When you look at the evidence, attractive women tend to do better in Hollywood. You can tell yourself it’s a lie, but then you can also look at the facts. I know that the whole landscape is changing, but I can still see that it’s an asset. Maybe it’s not necessary anymore, but it’s an asset.
Is there anyone you would like to shout-out?
I’m reluctant to give any one shout-out and then later feel that I forgot someone. Check out Lexa Graham. She started DNAtured Journal, a Reductress-style magazine about science. I want to shout out Evelyn O’Driscoll and Sophie Hayes, two comedians from Ottawa. They are the funniest people on Twitter. Their podcast Dumb Bitch Media has amassed a large following. I think they’re going to be a big deal.
What would you like to plug?
Look for mine and Allie’s podcast in the new year. It’s called Wait, Am I Gorgeous? Allie and I suffer from a lot of self-esteem issues. The podcast will be about dealing with self-esteem and ego in this industry because it is an industry that both attracts people who have self-esteem issues and fosters more self-esteem issues. We’ll talk amongst ourselves and with people who work in the industry. The tone of it will be comedic self-help.
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, presented by Theatre New Brunswick. Pictured, left to right: Beau Dixon, Kirsten Alter, Wally MacKinnon, and Ryan Hinds. In the background: Emily Shute, Sound Designer. Photo Credit: Andre Reinders.
I have never watched the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart. We rarely watched these “holiday classics” in our home. My family gathered around for The Muppet Christmas Carol, A Muppet Family Christmas, and that Christmas episode of Hey Arnold! Any personal knowledge of the film comes from pop culture references and parodies.
Enter Theatre New Brunswick and its holiday production It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, adapted by Joe Landry (from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, and Jo Swerling). Running at the Fredericton Playhouse.
A live radio play? That’s right. It’s like a podcast for your eyes and ears!
It’s Christmas Eve, 1946. Five actors are preparing for a live broadcast of It’s a Wonderful Life. A pianist (Emily Shute, sound designer) accompanies the actors. To the side, there is a table full of assorted objects. The radio drama will come alive through the magic of foley. Freddie Filmore (Wally MacKinnon) welcomes the studio audience and invites them to give their honest reactions to heighten the experience for listeners at home. The performance begins after he introduces the ensemble.
It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of a man trying to lift his neighbors out of poverty so that their families may prosper in the small town of Bedford Falls. That man is named George Bailey (Beau Dixon). Now, George’s efforts have not come without sacrifice. George has had to give up many dreams to continue his family’s work. He never went away to college, nor did he ever get to explore the world. George has stayed in Bedford Falls all his life.
George’s love for his community keeps him in Bedford Falls, but there is also something else that prevents him from leaving. Mr. Potter (MacKinnon) is a mean-spirited tycoon bent on controlling Bedford Falls. He owns nearly all the businesses in town save for George’s Building & Loan. Mr. Potter would have shut down the Bailey business long ago if it were not for George. Without George, there would be no Bedford Falls.
On Christmas Eve, an apprentice angel named Clarence (Rudy Hinds) visits George after a mix-up at the bank pushes him to the edge.
Unlike A Christmas Carol, there is no divine intervention that breaks through the heart of Bedford Fall’s old miser. The miser goes unbothered. Both stories are similar in that they demonstrate the impact that one person can have on the lives of many others. Of course, Scrooge only learns this lesson after spirits torment him. In It’s a Wonderful Life, divine intervention delivers George to the arms of his community. The last mile — it’s a community of ordinary people coming together to help one of their own. When George can fight no more, his friends and neighbors come to his aid so he can continue the mission.
In A Christmas Carol, the poor struggle without the rich. Here, the poor are trying to survive against the rich. Scrooge shuts out the world around him, whereas Mr. Potter has his hands in every corner of Bedford Falls. In a world without George Bailey, Mr. Potter achieves his ultimate goal: total erasure of the small town. The marginalized are further cast aside. George’s efforts help preserve the identity, history, and future of his community. Dixon — one of three black actors in the ensemble — in the role of George Bailey elevates the theme of erasure that runs through It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s hard to ignore as a brown guy sitting in the audience.
The first act is a bit of a drag. Clarence flips through the chapters of George’s life like it were a magazine in the doctor’s office. Except for the odd perfume sample, the plot is mainly a series of “George gets knocked down again.” The tender moments between George and his wife Mary Hatch (Kirsten Alter) are heartwarming. Landry’s adaptation sparks life into the story with commercial jingles that interrupt the program. The actors gleefully perform the jingles.
The actors, already playing multiple roles, take turns as the broadcast’s foley artists. Ordinary objects produce sounds that enrich the radio broadcast. A plunger and washtub full of water stand in for an icy river. Bicycle bells become telephones. And there’s even a small door to mark entrances and exits. It’s quite the old-timey spectacle.
Dixon plays George as a kind of impersonation of James Stewart. It works okay. He slips in and out of it occasionally. Does a radio broadcast of It’s a Wonderful Life really depend on an imitation of Stewart’s voice? Director Natasha MacLellan seems to believe it does. I don’t think so, but I say that as someone with no attachment to the original film. All that aside, Dixon delivers a spirited performance as George.
Hinds has a million dollar smile. His cheerful energy lights up the stage. His performance as Clarence is delightful. MacKinnon’s Mr. Potter reminds me of Ed Asner’s performance in Up. Only MacKinnon is playing a real cold-hearted man, and his gruff voice and mannerisms in front of the microphone prove it. Alter is positively terrific as Mary Hatch. Her robust voice and expressive physicality make for a great performance. Jenny Munday demonstrates considerable range as she hops from character to character.
Set Designer Katherine Jenkins-Ryan turns Studio A into something that looks more like a living room recording session. For a radio station, there’s not a lot of equipment (that we can see, anyway). If it weren’t for the On Air and Applause signs, you would think a group of friends dropped into someone’s spacious home for a script reading. It’s not a negative. I, as a born and raised Martimer, think it’s a big plus. You step foot inside the theatre and almost immediately feel a part of something special. Jenkins-Ryan’s cozy set is the kind of warm and intimate space you want to be in, especially during the holiday season.
TNB’s holiday production is full of joy and wonderful storytelling from its versatile ensemble.
Theatre New Brunswick’s It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play ran December 12 – 14 at the Fredericton Playhouse.
The production will tour New Brunswick, December 15 – 21.
Amanda Martinez’s latest album Libre is available now. Photo Credit: Johnny Lopera.
Amanda Martinez is a renowned singer-songwriter who has performed across Canada and on stages worldwide. She has played sold-out shows at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, New York City’s Blue Note Jazz Club, and the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara. In June, Martinez released her fourth album Libre. It is hard to believe the Toronto-born artist almost pursued another path entirely.
Born to a Mexican father and South African mother, Martinez grew up household founded upon a strong work ethic. Her father came to Toronto with virtually nothing. He and his brother rode their bicycles to Canada from Mexico. The brothers had $100 to their name. Martinez’s father always told her that there are no shortcuts in life. “It’s all about working hard.”
Acting on the advice of others, Martinez shelved her dream of pursuing a music career full-time so she could follow a “more secure path.” Martinez would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters in International Business from York University’s Schulich School of Business. In time, Martinez landed a job in TD Bank’s trade finance department. Music remained a hobby.
As time went on, Martinez became increasingly worried about her future. She feared growing old and looking back on her life with regret. It manifested “in a bit of a crisis.”
“I just realized that I had been going along with what everyone had told me,” she said. “I had never really given myself the chance to pursue what I had always known in my heart, that I loved music, and I loved to perform.”
At the age of thirty, Martinez left the corporate world to pursue a singing career. It was not long until she landed her first gig at Alleycatz, a jazz club in Toronto.
“I walked into this jazz club and convinced the owner to let me audition with the house band,” Martinez said. “I was very enthusiastic. When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me. He said: I like your attitude, I’ll give you every Monday night. That led to me knocking on doors at clubs around Toronto.”
In the beginning, Martinez sang a lot more in English than she did in Spanish. The singer noticed that “people really responded” when she sang in Spanish.
“They could tell that was what lit me up,” said Martinez.
When she was not performing at Sassafraz or the Rex Hotel, Martinez was busy auditioning for television. She became the host of Ontario Lottery Tonight, allowing her to give up her temp job. She landed roles in Mutant X, This is Wonderland, and Monk. Martinez also provided the voice for a character in the critically acclaimed video game Rainbow Six: Vegas.
In 2005, the singer embarked on a new chapter in her career. JAZZ.FM91 hired Martinez to host and produce Café Latino, a weekend radio program dedicated to Latin jazz from around the world.
“I feel like that got my name out there,” she said. “People got to know me on-air, and they would come to my gigs.”
Martinez recorded her debut album Sola during her tenure as host of Café Latino. “It was always my dream to record an album.” The album released in 2006. She left Café Latino in 2008 to focus on her music career.
“I wouldn’t have had a clue that years later I would have four albums to my name,” Martinez said. “And people would still be buying tickets to come see my shows. There was always that dream, but you never where you’ll end up.”
From knocking on doors to performing sold-out concerts, Martinez’s nearly twenty-year-long career is truly remarkable. And there is still much she wants to accomplish in her career. Martinez recently filmed an episode of Private Eyes in which she plays a Mexican actress visiting Toronto. A fan of musical theatre since high school, Martinez hopes one day she can bring her love for music and acting together. “I don’t know if it’ll be something I produce myself, but I would love to use both those sides of me.”
Touring more often is another career goal for Martinez, who performed across Ontario and Quebec this fall.
“I have been doing a little bit of touring but not a lot,” said Martinez. “There are so many places I would love to visit and bring my music to. It’s always a challenge with having young children at home and with my husband [Drew Birston] touring too. I hope to continue performing outside of Canada.”
Reflecting on her days performing at Alleycatz, Martinez says she feels lucky to still feel the same excitement to get on stage as she did back then. Yes, she may have “fewer wrinkles” in pictures from those years, but none of that matters for the 48-year-old singer. Martinez is thankful for the years of life experience that she brings to her music and shares with her audience.
“As the years have gone on, I feel so much more comfortable with myself and what I’m doing,” she said. “I remember when I first started, I was curious about people’s age. Oh, that person is x years old and still doing what they’re doing and loving it. People are still enjoying their music. That brought me comfort.”
“And I remember when I was hosting Café Latino, some of my favourite albums featured these seasoned singers from Cuba. There was this character to their voices. You could hear it in their voices — their life and their experience. That brings me back when I do feel anxious.”
What advice does Martinez have for young people? Follow your gut and try not to second-guess yourself.
“A lot of momentum that I got, especially in the beginning, was through being bold and going after little ideas or opportunities that came my way,” she said. “Even the radio program, I remember thinking who am I to host a show? But then I thought you know what, who am I not to? I can learn. If you maintain that attitude of being open, a lot of doors can open for you.”
Amanda Martinez’s latest album Libre is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.
Learn more about the artist: Official Website