The End

October 19, 2007 by

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fall colours on the way home

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since we closed. Amazing. I think all of us are home now, with the possible exception of Derbhle, who is finishing a visit with her Aunt in Toronto. And Kelly who left Ottawa to go to a job out in B.C. There was a great email from Jenny the other day about sitting with a cup of tea and her boyfriend, trying to remember her living room. It’s not that seventeen weeks is such a long time away from home, but that we covered so much land and sea, and so much happened that it feels more protracted than it was.

I was inundated with company upon my arrival home, and am only now settling and having some time for reflection. Such a long journey from a chat with Peter Hinton in his apartment last December, to this return home. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:

Almost two months before the auditions, my friend David bought me a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad for Christmas. This is what he inscribed in the front of the book: “I hope this revamped Odyssey becomes an adventure of your own… “. Prescient words.

I truly believe that the plays we work on as actors become our lives for the time we work on them. They effect us deeply. Consciously and subconsciously. And through our focus and dedication, we live them in our relationships and in our behaviour. As I say to my students, we don’t create the world of the play and the character outside ourselves, we discover the world of the play and the character inside ourselves. We hold all possible experiences already. Somewhere within. Eager to be divulged. 

What was I thinking when I said I would live in the Ferry House?! Wacky. Here I am, a forty-something woman, with 26 years of experience of theatre housing… and I choose the place that is listed as “halls of residence”. Now Kelly and Jenny, and Jade and Lisa will be disgruntled as they read this… if they read this… because the truth is, despite my enormous reservations upon seeing the “digs”, I had a great summer in that house, and some fundamental relationships were developed, and we laughed and cried, and had times to remember, and earplugs to discard, and I don’t think the blog would have been the same without that remarkable view of the Avon River.  

I’m so glad we had Newcastle and Ottawa. Because I discovered through the audience how compelling our play really was. How grateful they were to hear the voice of Margaret Atwood, telling the tale of a woman with faults and secrets and sins. Thank you to all who came. Theatre is an exchange.

Women are great. Not always easy. But great: “of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average; of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average”.

As I celebrate Jade and her luscious energy and creativity, I mourn the lost chance to work with and to know Frank. 

I have had three life-long dreams come true in my career: I have played Hamlet, I have played Sally Bowles, and I have played with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Cool.

I am so grateful to all of you who have read, religiously or not, this record of an adventure in theatre (41,833 words at final count). I thank especially those who have had the chutzpah to comment online. All those interchanges gave me energy and an understanding of my readership. Thank you. 

I am so grateful to Josette Bushell-Mingo for casting me and the rest of our band of warriors. And for her boundless energy, vision, and imagination. And to Deborah Shaw and Peter Hinton, who had a helluvan idea.

I am so grateful to the gods of the theatre for granting me this vocation. I burn thigh bones nightly in your praise. 

I leave you with the great feminine wisdom of Margaret Atwood, which she expresses through the voice of Penelope: “Don’t follow my example”.

(A bit of a Zen ending, don’t you think?! Tee hee.)

With love. Always.



It is finished

October 10, 2007 by

Saturday, October 6, 2007

It is finished.

Okay. That’s slightly over-dramatic if you catch the analogy.

It was a great day. A great send-off. We had two full houses. Two very receptive audiences. Two fine shows. I don’t think we were terribly reverend about the show coming to its close. In the end, it didn’t turn out to be that kind of theatre-making or that kind of company, though I so wanted that. (Just look back at my little prayer on the first day of rehearsal!) The desire for this to be special to everyone is a personal longing, I realise that. And a little naive, most likely. The most important thing is that it was special to the people who came to see it, particularly the people in Ottawa. It was a “hot ticket”. Something not to miss. 

In between shows I went to the Byward Market with young Jenny. A chance to touch base with the person I was closest to through the entire proceedings. We had sushi, and a good chat about what had passed, and what was to come. Finding the perspective to move forward as we wrap things up. I think Jenny Young is the cat’s ass. There. I said it. 

The market was also winding down to its close at five o’clock as we busied through the stalls to find a few items for our respective Thanksgiving dinners. It had been a crazy day for the vendors, I’m sure. And then Jenny went to the hotel, and I went to the actors’ quiet room, each for our little naps before the evening show. 

It was a fine way to send it off. And also a reminder that anything can happen. Somehow, the cable that moves the trap over the pond got tangled, and when Lisa went to close the trap with a great dramatic gesture… nothing happened. You gotta love those egg-on-the-face moments. For Jade and I it was waiting in the vom for a cue light that wasn’t coming. So out we went onto the stage to see the pond still open. The cast covered reasonably well, I guess. Katie Vine later said she was about to stop the show, when miraculously the panel began to slide, Penny hung on, and the scene progressed as normal. So it wasn’t perfect, but it was grand.

We had a little champagne toast in the hall after the show. Corrine had friends that had flown all the way from Penticton to see the show. Michael Green, from One Yellow Rabbit, came from Calgary. David Latham from Stratford. Caroline from the British Council was there, along with some girls from Grenville College in Cornerbrook. A national and international audience. Josette phoned from Sweden to congratulate us. And we had a good little send off from the NAC with a few off the cuff, heartfelt thanks given from Peter Hinton, and Andy Lunney, and from Moj on behalf of the company. 

Then we marched over to Carmello’s, a little Italian restaurant across from the hotel. They were extremely accommodating, and we had a great meal with lots of laughter and conversation. 

As is my wont, I was one of the first to go. And I just started weeping. I’m not ashamed. And I’m not self-conscious when I cry. I just go for it. I’m sensitive, and I cry when I’m sad. And it has been such an enormous experience for me personally. So I hugged and gave my love to all with the tears a-streaming. And very kindly, Moj called for a toast to me… as the “heart” of the company. And I am proud to wear that label, and to have the respect of my colleagues. My integrity as an actor is so important to me. And that was that. I drove off to the suburbs.

My brother and his family return from the cottage at midday and we will prepare Thanksgiving dinner. This gives me a little time for reflection, though I know that there will be plenty of time for that in the weeks to come. 

For anyone who is still reading… I will submit a prologue and an epilogue within the next week. And then that will be that. We will say goodbye. And thank-you for caring about the theatre. As for me, I would certainly not still be writing if I didn’t care with all my heart. 

A Change is upon us

October 5, 2007 by

Friday, October 5, 2007

We had a great show last night. A great house, full of energy, which makes the show so easy to play. Did I sense a tenderness from the cast? Or was that just me. The penultimate day. 

Most of us went to the Chateau Laurier for a drink after the show. Some dressed up, some as they were, but it was nice to sit around in the piano bar as a group and enjoy these last moments together. I gabbed and laughed with Michael Cryne for much of the time. Many photos were taken. Moments to remember. 

And I feel the same energy that I had when we were leaving Stratford, only there is no Marks and Spencers! So this time it’s not food that I’m trying to hold onto, but souvenirs. What can I get signed by the cast? Why didn’t I get a poster from the RSC? Will I have enough of a tangible record of this group of people? Suddenly I feel that I haven’t got nearly enough pictures of people. I’ve been taking pictures all along for the blog, but people don’t want their photos plastered all over the web, so I’ve avoided pics with my compadres in them. So I was snapping away at the bar last night, too. The ways that humans try to hang on. Linger. Savour. 

As I’ve already told you, I write the morning after. And this morning… the morning of the last day… the rain has come. It is bleary and considerably cooler. The pine needles and golden birch leaves are blanketing the garden where yesterday I was soaking up the sun. A change is upon us. 

And tomorrow will be another day. 

A Nebulous Time

October 4, 2007 by

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Okay. This is the first day where I feel like I have nothing new to say! I feel a bit in limbo really. I have seen most of what I want to see in the Ottawa area, so tourism is not a high  priority. I’ve done all the shopping I need to do. So it comes down to reading and writing, and getting a few things set up for the return home. 

The show… is the show now. It is almost a creature apart from all of us. It delivers its punches, and its caresses regardless of our little ups and downs. That in itself is interesting, I suppose. 

I’m at that awkward point that I was at the end of the run in Stratford: trying to let go, and to hold on at the same time. It’s a nebulous time. 

Another glorious day

October 3, 2007 by

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Another glorious day in Ottawa. I kept warning the girls that the weather would turn… but it has decidedly made a liar out of me. 

A good show. A little slow. The slowest one we’ve done in a while, but just knowing that will perk us up for tomorrow night’s show. Still. Fun.penelopiad_prod_12.jpg
Members of the Company, The Penelopiad, photo Ellie Kurttz

I’m having such a good time with Sarah these days. The rapport that we have on stage between both our Maids, and the Odysseus/Eurycleia relationship, has evolved substantially in the process of playing. It is a real touchstone for me for the entire piece. We are playful, and sly, and I find our internal story very moving. I’m sure the audience only gets little tastes of that, but as an actor it is something that keeps me focussed as the days go on, and the shows blur one into the next. It is this kind of detail that keeps the spark alive. 

And as for the old repetitive strain injuries (Corrine has strained her groin, and I am hobbling along on my sore Achilles tendons), they slow us down, and perhaps Eurycleia’s limp looks a little more convincing, but nothing that anyone would notice. The ice-packs keep the worst of it at bay, and it is amazing how a little adrenaline keeps the body moving! 

The wind has calmed. Like a suspense before the ultimate climax. The resolution is inevitable. 

Things are back to normal.

October 2, 2007 by

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Things are back to normal. Pippa has recovered from her bug. Corrine’s sniffles (the culprit behind the toilet paper) have subsided, and we went on to do a really solid show for a full house, with a standing ovation. It is so gratifying to see the response of people to this show. Such a lot of hard work, and it comes to this fruition.

Friends of Corrine took some of the girls up to Meech Lake for a picnic in the glorious autumn weather that we continue to enjoy. Penny and Pauline were thrilled, because they got to go swimming in a lake! I’m sure the locals must think them mad, dunking themselves in the October waters, but it is an event for them. And Penny came back talking about buying real estate. I can certainly understand that. It is idyllic scenery, and this time of year is particularly calming. It is something in the air.

It is appropriate as our project ebbs, that the summer also begins to fade. The wind blows. The leaves fall. And change is in the air. It brings a certain melancholy and introspection. And interesting that at the end of our run… comes Thanksgiving. Funny how things work out.

One of those nights in the theatre

October 1, 2007 by

Monday, October 1, 2007

October. Amazing.

Pauline, Jade, Sarah, and Moj had an fantastic time in Montreal. They just loved it. Loved the shopping, loved the culture, and Pauline and Jade certainly loved the men! Andy, the percussionist, and Mike, both went to Toronto, and also had a great time. It’s such a treat to have people from abroad discover your country. Somehow it makes my own love of this multi-faceted land more credible. Such a Canadian thing, to need reassurance from the outsider. Ah well. I hope it makes us charming.

We had one of those nights in the theatre. The nights that keep you on your toes! It started off at the end of the first group scene, when Corrine left stepped forward as Icarius to say her final line, and left a long piece of toilet paper in her wake. The rest of us are standing upstage in a “vase-painting” line, and our eyes bugged out of our heads. I nearly howled. God love Jenny, because on the exit line she meandered downstage and picked up the offending tissue. I was in hysterics backstage. There is nothing so funny to me as a trail of toilet paper on the stage. This is an insight into my true nature.

Little did we know that was just the beginning. Pippa has picked up another stomach bug, and after her first scene as the Naiad Mother she started throwing up into buckets in the wings. So she wasn’t on for the next couple of scenes, and there was a lot of running around backstage, as she was trying to decide what she could do, and what she simply could not do. Corrine then threw up in sympathy. And poor Penny, who basically never leaves the stage, has to keep going through it all, with Pippa in some scenes, and not in others, and not knowing who Pippa’s lines might be coming from. At one point, as we were singing, Corrine came over to me, and under her breath asked who was going to take Pippa’s line in the coming scene, and I under my breath whispered back, “Jade”… and all this behind smiles and intention, so the audience was completely oblivious to all of it. Kind of a riot.

And then…

Okay. What is it with me and my bleeding toe?! Yes. Ladies and gentlemen. I slashed my toe up again. Same toe. Different place. But once again, at a point in the show that is impossible for me to get bandaged. So I was leaving tracks of blood behind me onstage, and the hem of my costume is spotted with proof of my sacrifice. And it’s very hard not to think of the mess you’re making, and that you may be distracting people with your bright red foot. But the great thing is… nobody notices. It just makes my limping even more focussed and effective!

This whole show was a testament to technique and camaraderie. The story was told seamlessly regardless of all the other goings on. And I know that for a fact, for wouldn’t you know that there were a whole bunch of actors who had come up from Stratford, Ontario to see the show on their day off, and also a number of actors, including Lucy Peacock and Diane D’Aquila, who are in The Ark here at the NAC, and my dear friend Sherry Bie, the Principal of the English Section of the National Theatre School. They had no idea what was going on, and were genuinely thrilled with the production. You gotta love that! The show must go on.

And not to negate Pippa’s suffering. She was sick five times during the show! What a trooper. And then after she finished the second Naiad Mother scene, she went home to bed. God, Pip. I hope you feel better tomorrow.

Empowering the Next Generation of Canadian Women

September 30, 2007 by

Sunday, September 30, 2007

May I just say that the weather here continues to be glorious! We are having our July in September. I can certainly deal with that. rideauhall1.jpg
Rideau Hall

Well. No rest for the wicked. Though I had a nice pancake breakfast with my family, it was into the frock again and off to the Governor General’s place to participate in a panel discussion entitled: Leading by Example: Empowering the Next Generation of Canadian Women. The women of the Penelope Circle were there, along with about half our cast, and Rae McKen and Veronica Tennant. There were about 120 women altogether, including many recipients of the Order of Canada, and many high power executives from business, law, politics, and the Arts. The main speakers were Zita Cobb (an amazing chick from the Rock!), Gail Asper (a family success story from Winnipeg), and Marie Chouinard (a woman whose heart speaks through her body), along with her Excellency, Michaëlle Jean. 

After the introductory speakers, we participated in round table discussions focussing on three questions: 

Is women’s excellence in the arts and in society sufficiently recognized?

How do women define success?

What can and should women do to lead the next generation?

Our key points were fed back to the group by a spokesperson from each table. Ms. Jean then responded with some closing remarks, completely off the cuff. This woman is a truly inspiring speaker, and such a gentle and kind person to meet and speak with. We should be sooooo proud that she is a representative of the the culture of this country to the world. No better, I think. 

It was a most impressive afternoon. There was a great deal of clout sitting in that room. And a great deal of interest in passing that clout on to another generation of empowered women. I was a little disappointed that though the focus was ostensibly on how philanthropy in the arts can lead our society forward in “ways of knowing beyond reason”, most of the feedback from the round tables was more general, and had steered itself toward success in the world of business and money. The curious exception to this trend were the two Francophone tables. We have so much to learn from Quebec artists and their place in the heart of their cultural and business success. Perhaps that is a quest for another afternoon at Rideau Hall. 

There were some amazing women who you just got a dribble of, that would have been so exciting to have a good yack with, but we didn’t finish the work at hand until 5pm. (Oh! Clare Cary, the wife of the British High Commissioner, was there. And I owe her an apology for spelling her name wrong last week. Sorry Clare! I told her at least I got her last name in; poor Warren Wills was just “Warren” for the longest time, if you’ll recall!) All of us Penelopiad girls were pooped. We stayed at the reception for a short time, and I took an abbreviated dash around the house to look at the amazing collection of Canadian art, including Riopelle, Colville, and Kurelek. Breathtaking. The “large dining room”. Nice. And the greenhouses! Wow. And once again… the toilets! Good toilets in these places, I’m telling you. Real linen hand towels at the Governor General’s, so she takes the prize. 


Greenhouses at Rideau Hall

It was half past six by the time I got back to my brother’s. He and Deb had kindly made dinner for me, and we had a great time chatting about my afternoon. It was great to immediately put our discussion into action by sharing the stories with my thirteen year old niece, Ainsleigh. She is a delight. She is a promise. She even understands when I start talking about artists creating the metaphors for our society’s story. She’s pretty impressive. 

“Don’t follow my example” says Penelope in the play. And this resonated with Zita Cobb.  Encourage young women to know what they know, and not to “be like” anyone but themselves. That is real success. That is real power. 

Friends in the House

September 29, 2007 by

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Two shows today. Both really solid. And both GREAT houses. We are still full to the rafters, which is so great for the English Theatre. The ovations are varied, but we can feel the enjoyment of the crowds. 

For the first time, I had some friends in the house. Both shows. Friends who have see me do lots of theatre. Friends I respect and trust with my heart. I was so chuffed that both sets of friends thought the show was terrific. A really entertaining visual spectacle from start to finish. And so impressed with the instantaneous transitions that we make from one character to another, from male to female, from comedy to tragedy. Impressed with how we create entire worlds out of character and action on a bare, black stage. Impressed with the music, the singing, the movement. And really impressed with Penny and her ability to surf the story, guiding our audience through the laughter, the horror, and the empathy. Really impressed. 

How happy am I?!

The Amazing Women of the Penelope Circle

September 28, 2007 by

Friday, September 28, 2007

A good show tonight. The women of the Penelope Circle were in, and we met for a champagne and strawberries reception at the end of the show. These women constitute a circle of financial support for this project, specifically because of its focus on the creative achievements of Canadian women. Each of the women in the Penelope Circle has chosen a protégé to work with them on the philanthropy that they are giving to this project. How grateful can we be for people like this. And it is not some anonymous donation. Let me stress how much these amazing women have given us by being at the play, some of them four and five times, and really expressing our achievements with their voices and their response to our work. What a special opportunity it is to establish a real relationship with the patronesses of our art. A very heartfelt thanks to them.

It’s always interesting to hear about the changes in the show since we opened in Stratford fifteen years ago. (Oh. No. It wasn’t fifteen years ago. It was in fact only eight weeks ago. How time flies!) Leslie Gales was saying she really felt the story of Penelope was much more focussed and clear. That is really good news. Margaret Atwood thought that as well. I think it is so important for people to know that theatre is a living and breathing art, and that a new play, even in a single production, and even within eight weeks time, will grow and change, and improve. We’re like good wine or whisky. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll probably say it again… we need time to make art.