Archive for September, 2007

Empowering the Next Generation of Canadian Women

September 30, 2007

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

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

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.

A Very attentive house

September 27, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Not much to report on Oz, I’m afraid, so it can’t have been that exciting. It was great to have a free day today. What with rehearsals, and opening, and events, and family, and matinees, this was my first chance to get a sleep-in. Whew. I am so grateful for that. So it was a day to catch up on emails, and do laundry, and begin to focus on life after the Penelopiad. It’s always a bit of a drag when you get to this point. You can see the end coming. And that means a lot of conflicted feelings: on the one hand it will be great to be home, to see my cat, to live in my home, to show my face in Toronto again. On the other hand, this has been such a vital chapter in my life, so full of challenges and triumphs, that sitting in my sun-room, reading Harry Potter, and waiting for the phone to ring will take some adjustment. And so… as with all things, I will adjust.

We had a good show last night. A very attentive house. We are still having some issues with the singing, which is a real drag. It has to do with the fact that the band is not onstage. In both the Swan and the Northern Stage, we had the support of the acoustic music coming from a balcony onstage above us. But the proscenium arch at the NAC is lower than both of those theatres, and we couldn’t put in a “third floor”. So the band is backstage and the instruments are all on microphone, then mixed into the sound through speakers in the house. We’re having difficulty synching up with the band for many complicated reasons. But it is frustrating not to give Warren’s music its due. God bless Fred and Denis, the sound guys, and good old Mike Crynne. They keep working on making things better for us onstage. We’re not giving up yet.

Peter Hinton, photo Laird Mackintosh

We were invited to Peter Hinton’s for drinks and nibblies after the show. Peter is such a generous soul. It was a real treat to be in his beautiful home in the Byward Market, and to see some of his beautiful art. He is such a great support. And Paula Danckert, an Associate Artist at the NAC, has offered her apartment in Montreal to the English and Irish women, who are going to make a little field trip on Sunday and Monday. That should be a real treat for them! I’m sure Montreal is spectacular at this time of year. There should be lots to report after the weekend.

So much going on

September 26, 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kate Hennig as Eurycleia in The Penelopiad, Photo Ellie Kurttz

Two shows today. We had a really good matinee with students and seniors. It was an excellent balance, and they brought out the best in each other. How completely different these students were than the group on Monday. It’s so unfortunate when a few loud mouthed schnooks spoil the rapport, and confiscate the relationship we are trying to establish. Ah well. That did not happen today. And the talk-back after the show really reflected it: there were at least a hundred students and about fifty or more seniors who stayed. And the questions were intelligent and entertaining. It is so rewarding to make that kind of contact with young people in the theatre. Excellent.


It’s great to be at the National Arts Centre. There is so much going on. My brother and sister-in-law took my niece to hear Vadim Repin play the Beethoven Violin Concerto in Southam Hall, Ted Dystra opened in An Evening With Glenn Gould in the Studio, and we continue playing to sold-out houses in the Theatre. Cool.


We had another talk-back after the evening show. It is so gratifying to hear the questions of the audience. There is always an interest in the cross-gender work, and an interest in the cross-cultural creation of this piece. And almost always someone who is an Atwood fan, who has strong feelings about the transition from book to stage. This time the woman who was particularly interested in those changes was extremely supportive, and very pleased with the integrity of the staging of the work. That’s satisfying. For Margaret, too, I hope.


I must confess that I have not been very social since we have come to Ottawa. I am so pooped. By the time the show comes down, the idea of going to the bar is simply not appealing. So I am basically sticking to the scheduled social events, and the rest of the time I am heading to my brother Paul’s home, and having a glass of wine and a visit with his wife, Deb, and him. The other’s, I know, went to a bar called Oz tonight. I will tell you tomorrow if they had any fun!

Sold out on a Tuesday night!

September 25, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sold out on a Tuesday night! Pretty great.

Kate Hennig as Eurycleia in The Penelopiad, Photo Ellie Kurttz

I am not one to read reviews, but apparently the Canadian Press has been very generous. If that means that people will come and buy tickets, then more power to the press! (Wow! That is a controversial statement in my business.)

Of course sometimes it means exactly the opposite, and we unfortunately have to take the bad with the good. That’s why I don’t read reviews: for the most part, I believe them. They are the opinion of someone who frequents the theatre. Often, these people are educated and experienced in it. And sometimes, as an actor… (not this time, I’ll stress) you know you are in a bad show, and when that critic you respect or believe, trashes your work, it’s really hard to get up on that stage with integrity and continue to perform. For me, as an actor, I must dedicate myself to my job with my heart, my body, and my soul every single time I set foot on that stage. And I cannot have someone else’s opinion, good or bad, jeopardising that dedication.

(Okay. That was a bit of a diversion. I’m apparently given to writing a little sermon in each entry these days. Or a tale. I hope they’re entertaining. It only means that the show is going well, and that there is not much else to write about.)

I think we were all grateful for the day off today, before the show tonight. It meant catching up on some well deserved rest, and it allowed for a little alone time. There have been so many social events, and friends and family visiting, that it’s tough to get time to oneself.

I just want to laud the crew once again. This group of men and women at the NAC are fantastic. So supportive, and truly interested in helping us to create the best show possible for the folks filling the auditorium. And Ziggy, the stage carpenter, was good enough to invite everyone over for a barbeque at his home last night, for which he provided most of the meat available in the Ottawa valley! along with great Canadian hospitality. So, thanks Ziggy, and all the crew for your invaluable contributions to the success of the Penelopiad here in Ottawa.

Tea and Croquet for the Maids

September 24, 2007

Monday, September 24th, 2007

No rest for the wicked. Penny and I were up early, and heading off to the CBC studios in downtown Ottawa to have a radio interview with Jian Ghomeshi for his arts programme, Q. He broadcasts out of Toronto, so we were in a studio, and he was in another studio miles away, but we had a good time and ended up yacking about the play for half an hour. It was good fun, actually.

Then whisked back to the Theatre by Laura Denker, our publicist here, for a 12:30 school matinee. There were the prerequisite boys sitting in the front row on the stage left side that were more interested in looking up our skirts than listening to the play, but generally, I think this is a great show for teenagers. It is so empowering for the young women in the audience, and that is what we held on to. So regardless of the sniggering in the love scenes, and the nervous responses to the rape, I think they took a lot away with them. One can hope, anyway. I know if it had been me when I was fifteen, I would have been thrilled, and talking about it for days to come.

So, I have to tell you a bit of a story. Just before I left the High Commissioners yesterday, some of the girls (who had wanted to go swimming in a lake, and had brought their bathing suits to that end) had been invited by Anthony and Claire to use their swimming pool. So they were taking a dip and having a great time. Well, after I left, apparently, they continued. Margaret, and the Cary’s and all the rest headed off to the NAC for Margaret’s interview with Laurie Brown. But Pauline, Derbhle, Pam, Kelly, Jade, and Jenny stayed to splash about in the pool. (I must stress that they were invited to stay!) I guess they had a fabulous time, and kept thinking that they should be out and on the road by the time the Cary’s returned from the Speaker’s Series. So they were dressed and heading out on the lawn, when Derbhle picked up a croquet mallet and popped one of the balls through the… I don’t know what they’re called… the little arch-y things. It was just at that point that the Cary’s car came pulling through the gates.

Now Anthony Cary is a huge croquet player, which is why he had set up the course in the first place, and seeing Derbhle striking out on his croquet pitch (I’m making all this terminology up now), leapt from the car (writer’s embellishment) and picked up a mallet. “Do stay and play a game,” he solicited, and so they did. Tea and biscuits were brought forth by Claire (or perhaps by the staff) and the Maids enjoyed the rest of the afternoon playing croquet with the High Commissioner. I’m sure it was more fun for the Cary’s than hanging with… well the Trade Attaché from Bulgaria, for instance (no disrespect intended).

Canada, in a nutshell

September 23, 2007

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Our day off, but we’re up and at ‘em, and off to the British High Commission at Earnscliffe, to a brunch hosted by Anthony and Claire Cary, the High Commissioner and his wife. It’s fantastic. What an amazing location, right on the Ottawa River, with gorgeous views from their reception rooms and the dining room. And since we’re still having summer in Ontario! we pile our plates high and go out into the garden to eat.


It was a much larger group than went to the Canadian High Commission in London. This time almost the whole cast was there along with creative team members, and folks from the English Theatre, and some of the Penelope Circle, and Margaret Atwood, who sat down on the blankets with a group and had great chats over brunch. 

For those of you who have never been to a High Commission… la, la, la… I highly recommend them. Great furnishings, good food, generous hospitality, clean bathrooms. All good. 

After the do, I took Penny out to the MacKenzie-King estate in the Gatineau hills just outside Hull. It was such a glorious day, and the trees are now creating a stunning display of colour. We had a grand walk in the woods with my family (and quite a number of very happy Outaouai-ans). While we were sitting and having an ice-cream after our walk, we were approached by a young woman who said, “Were you in the Penelopiad yesterday?” Sure enough. There was a group of young women who were all PhD students in Canadian History from universities around Ontario, and they had scheduled their Ottawa research to coincide with the run of the Penelopiad! How fantastic! It was a bit of a giggle, but wonderful to run into fans in the Gatineau woods! That’s Canada, in a nutshell.

Mackenzie-King Estate

Home to my family in the evening, but frankly I was too bagged to enjoy them. We had a great take-away Chinese meal, and they allowed me to sneak off and have a long soak in the tub with a glass of wine. An early night, and prayers for a good night’s sleep. 

Thank you, Ottawa!

September 22, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I rose early for the morning after an opening because I was to have an on camera interview with CBC NewsWorld. I arrived at the theatre at 11:20 to put some make-up on my beleaguered face. I’m afraid a trowel and Polyfilla wouldn’t help the bags under my eyes. And then… the interviewer no-showed! Grrrrrrrrr. That is the worst. The morning after opening! I was not a happy camper. 

Of course, I got over it, and we had two good shows Saturday. We were all pretty pooped for the matinee, but got some rest in between shows and gave a really good evening show. 

The response of the audiences here in Ottawa is considerably different to the reaction in England. The English, and Irish women in our cast have remarked on it, too. I’m not sure what to chalk it up to, but we have had standing ovations for every show here. It’s such a pleasure. Maybe it’s a Canadian story? Or maybe it’s told in a way that we are somehow akin to? Maybe we’re really hitting our stride now? Or maybe we’re just proud that this is a Canadian play, a Canadian production, a Canadian success story? Whatever it is, it feels so great to have such an amazing response from our home crowd! Yee haw. THANK YOU OTTAWA!

Fall foliage

Opening night in Ottawa

September 21, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

(My brain is fried. It’s actually early Sunday evening and I am completely exhausted. But I’m trying to get my brownie badge in journal writing, so… onward.) 

Our opening day in Ottawa began with a four hour rehearsal call, after a morning in the garden at my brother’s. It was a tough call. People are so tired of rehearsing. Not that we’ve had the time to do cleaning rehearsals, but doing the technical “put-in” rehearsals in Newcastle and Ottawa have both been long calls contributing to long weeks of work. But… even though there was resistance, it was invaluable to make these little niggly adjustments to a few technical elements, and to clean up music and dance numbers. God is in the details.  I may sound annoyingly gung-ho, but I was really happy to have the work done, and felt very confident going into the opening night performance here at the NAC.

We were a bit tight. It’s so funny, but as soon as the performance begins you can feel the relationship with the audience, and how easy or difficult the story-telling is going to be. And we all know that it is very rare that an opening night audience will be the easy kind. But the great thing is that we have already had a full range of audiences come to see this play, and the story-telling is so solid now that our little tightnesses and nerves are not really evident to those watching. Ultimately… they got to their feet at the end. And that tells the tale.

Our opening reception was in Le Cafe at the NAC. And the joint was jumpin’, and packed to the rafters. It was a struggle for me to find my family let alone see who else was in the place. And before what Penny calls “the bun fight” could really begin, there were speeches: Peter Herndorf, the CEO of the National Arts Centre, Anthony Cary, the British High Commissioner, Deborah Shaw, the Associate Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Peter Hinton, the Artistic Director of English Theatre at the NAC, and Margaret Atwood… well, we all know who she is: the Queen of Canadian Literature. There was a lot of clapping, and gratitude to funding bodies like the British and Canada Councils, and individual donors, and loads of praise for the collaborative creative process between these two companies and these two countries. It was a bit like that part of the wedding where you’re longing to get to the bar and refresh your drink before the dancing begins, but we all survived. 

And then there were lots of faces in the crowd: Jian Ghomeshi, R.H. Thompson, Martha Burns, Brian Quirt, Naomi Campbell, Leah Cherniak, Susan Coyne, John Van Burek, Meno Plucker, along with Kelly’s parents, Mama Cox, my family, Pippa’s mom, Jenny’s friends, Pam’s sister. Only Corrine had no family there. But we love her enough to be family for a night, I hope! There were tons more, but honestly, it was so crowded and very warm that it was tough to know who was there (so sorry if I missed your name!). 

Dancing ensued, and there were goodbyes to our wonderful RSC crew, who have to head home now that the show is safely in the hands of the NAC crew. So love, gratitude and goodbye to Marion, Fiona, Lisa, Anna, and Becky (you’ll note even the crew is all women!). And an enormous thank you to Charmion who leaves on Sunday.