Meg MacKay’s Probably a Witch Is a Roar

 

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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.


Meg MacKay’s Probably a Witch is available now on streaming platforms.

Follow Meg MacKay: Twitter / Instagram

‘You have hopes and dreams and disappointments and heartbreak’: Interview With Adult Performer Mistress T

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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.

Follow Mistress T (18+): Twitter / Blog

Rebecca Reeds’ Buddy Brings the Fish Home

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Rebecca Reeds’ Buddy is available now.

Last week, Howl & Roar Records released Rebecca Reeds’ debut comedy album Buddy. The Toronto-based comedian has performed at the Winnipeg 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.


Rebecca Reeds’ Buddy is available now on digital platforms. 

Follow Rebecca Reeds: Twitter / Instagram

Howl & Roar Records: Website

‘My dreams are going to come true, hopefully’: Interview with Comedian Olivia Stadler

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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 produces Literally 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. 

Yeah, exactly.

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?

No. 

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.

How did you find my Twitter?

You followed me after I posted my interview with Michelle Shaughnessy.

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?

I’m 27.

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.

Have you ever gone viral?

I have a few times, yeah.

What’s that like?

It’s a cool experience. I really like it. 

What has been your most viral tweet?

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.

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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.


Follow Olivia Stadler: Twitter / Instagram / Literally Dead

January 4th, 2020: Literally Dead celebrates its one year anniversary! See event for more details.

“When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me”: Interview with Singer-Songwriter Amanda Martinez

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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

Follow Amanda Martinez: FacebookInstagram / Twitter / YouTube

“Stage 4 Hurricane” Dena Jackson Brings the House Down in Blue Lights

DenaJacksonAlbumCover

Dena Jackson is a Toronto-based comedian and writer. She hosts The Ego Podcast. Blue Lights is Jackson’s debut comedy EP.

Dena Jackson is coming off a big year. Sure, she might be “moonwalking backwards” through life, but 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.” Well, that all depends on the time between text messages, then you might be dealing with a “stage 4 hurricane.”

In her debut comedy EP Blue Lights, Jackson invites her audience into the life of a newly divorced woman. It’s a weird and wild world, but she’s pretty weird and wild, too. When she’s not on the hunt for men with pinky rings, Jackson is busy leading the lost luggage scene online. She’s a big deal on Twitter, you know.

Blue Lights runs just under 25 minutes, which is all the time that Jackson needs to come in and tear it up. Jackson skillfully weaves in and out of the woes and small victories of life. All in a distinct rhythm and way with words that sucks you in like dirt against a “Dyson vacuum.” Jackson’s Blue Lights is positively hilarious.


Dena Jackson’s Blue Lights released on November 22, 2019. Blue Lights is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify. Released through Comedy Records.

Follow Dena Jackson: Official Website / Twitter / Instagram / The Ego Podcast

Notes From the 2019 Silver Wave Film Festival

The 19th Silver Wave Film Festival wrapped this weekend. I was lucky enough to catch the festival’s third showcase of New Brunswick short films on Saturday night. The Fredericton Playhouse was nearly at capacity for the event. Friends, family, and supporters of local film talent were in attendance.

Before the evening began, the filmmakers, varied in directorial experience and years involved in the industry, introduced themselves to the audience and gave thanks to the people who made their films possible.

When We Were Young
Director/Writer: Annick Blizzard
Producer: Annick Blizzard, Jon Blizzard
Cast: Annick Blizzard, Ryan Griffith, Elizabeth Goodyear

In this short film from Annick Blizzard, Blizzard plays Liv, a woman who returns to the town where she grew up. Her visit home surprises people from her past. Not in a good way. The hotel clerk (Elizabeth Goodyear) is reluctant to let Liv book a room. Liv hands the clerk a big wad of cash to help change her mind. Her childhood friend Jake (Ryan Griiffith) wants nothing to do with Liv. 15 years later, the accidental death of Liv’s brother by her hand still haunts Jake. There’s nothing left to say, Jake tells Liv.

Before she tries speaking to Jake again, Liv travels to her childhood home. Memories from the past rush back to her. Liv is standing in a field with a rifle in her hands. A young man runs up to her. She turns around quickly with the rifle aimed high. 

Liv finds Jake drinking alone in a bar. She tells him about a pair of keys she found in a pencil case. The keys, she says to Jake, unlock a secret container that they buried when they were kids. Liv wants Jake to dig it up with her. Jake relents and joins Liv to the location of the box.

Blizzard brings a muted intensity to the role of Liv. She is a woman with a plan. In her performance, Blizzard makes clear that Liv is not someone to be underestimated. Griffith goes all-out as Jake. He’s angry and unwilling to bury the past. Griffith’s Jake leaves nothing on the table with Liv, which might be a mistake. He is worn down by Liv’s persistence and emotional manipulation. Blizzard and Griffith make for a dynamic pairing.

Like the ending of Inception, When We Were Young leaves viewers wanting just a few seconds more to find out what happens next. Is Liv sincere in her intentions to reconnect, or is there something sinister afoot? 

Unofficial Selection
Director/Writer: Gordon Mihan
Producer: Lance Kenneth Blakney, Arianna Martinez
Cast: Jean-Michel Cliche, Catherine Belzile, Tania Breen, Sharisse LeBrun, Ryan Barton, Cassidy Ingersoll, Anthony Bryan, Jon Blizzard

After narrowly violating his probation, a con-artist named Trevor (Jean-Michel Cliche) turns away from crime and organizes a film festival. Well, not without some help from his sister Sophie (Catherine Belzile). 

A con-artist herself, Sophie brings Trevor into her low-level film festival scam (accept entry fees but reject all the films) to keep him busy. What begins as just another job turns into something more. Trevor enthusiastically accepts all the film entries. In the meantime, Sophie is planning a bank heist.

Unofficial Selection weaves in and out of the three short films that Trevor accepted to his film festival. The first short film is about a dystopian society where the government has banned recreational swimming due to a water shortage. A former swim champion (Anthony Bryan) breaks into a pool for one more swim. The second film begins with guests at a wedding reception, recording video messages for the bride and groom. Everything goes wrong when the apocalypse rolls in and wreaks havoc on the party. And finally, the third film sees a young man (Ryan Barton) interviewing for a new job. He may seem confident on the outside, but there’s a lot happening on the inside. When the interviewers ask about his biggest weakness, the man lets it all out.

Unofficial Selection celebrates the transformative power of film. Trevor is plucked from his bubble and brought into something larger than himself. In viewing these films, the con-artist finds not only purpose, but also empathy. Trevor evolves from trying to con a pizza delivery guy to placing himself into someone else’s shoes to making something real happen. 

In its story of a con-artist buying into fiction, Unofficial Selection identifies the sleight-of-hand inherent in storytelling: a story is never just a story.

54 North
Director/Writer: Mélanie Léger, Émilie Peltier
Cast: Mélanie Léger, Marcel Romain Theriault, Katherine Kilfoil, Ariel Villalon

In 54 North. Moncton filmmaker Mélanie Léger plays a homeless woman named Sam. One day, Sam finds a key on the ground. The key sparks something in Sam’s memory. She digs through her belongings to find a photograph of a young boy. Sam finds herself at the door of a familiar house in a nearby residential area. 

The residents of the house are an older couple (Marcel Romain Theriault, Katherine Kilfoil) preparing for someone’s birthday. Sam begins quietly living in their space. 

Before leaving for a birthday party, the wife tells her husband she doesn’t feel okay leaving the house, not after recent break-ins in the neighborhood. Her husband assures her that everything will be fine and that he’ll call the security company to fix their alarm system. Once the couple leaves, Sam comes out of hiding and begins searching the house for a cell phone. Coming out of the shower, she hears someone breaking into the house downstairs.

After subduing the burglar, Sam sits in the family room to make a call on the burglar’s cellphone. It is here that the film shatters everything we think we know about Sam. Sam looks on the walls of the room and sees herself in family photos.The boy from earlier in the film is her son. His grandparents are the older couple who own the house. Sam is a university graduate. When her son picks up the phone, Sam is overwhelmed by emotion. She cannot speak a word. All she can do is cry as she listens to her son’s voice again. At last, Sam reconnects with the life she once knew.

In its final moments, the film lifts Sam from a solitary outsider to an individual with history, relationships, and feelings. 54 North pushes back against the dehumanizing ideas that persist in discussions about homelessness. It reminds us that homelessness does not discriminate. Homelessness can happen to anybody, and it is not typically a choice. 

Léger delivers an inspired performance as Sam, a character with no dialogue. She brings a wonderful physical fluency to the role. I was in awe of the film’s ability to deliver social commentary with minimal dialogue. 

54 North is a powerful film. A must-see.


The 19th Silver Wave Film Festival ran November 7 – 10 in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Complete list of films screened at New Brunswick Shorts III:

End of Leash
Life’s a Bitch
Unofficial Selection
Together We Move
When We Were Young
After The War
Velle to Want
54 North
Distortion