Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The embrace of Birdsong Studio

As you probably can guess, I spend a lot of time in Birdsong Studio, a small shop that Jim Dorie - the previous owner of this property - built to work on his motorcycles and play music.  While I've never measured it, my guess is that it would be 12-feet by 20-feet.  There are two features about the space that stand out.  The first is its oversized door - it was built to easily allow motorcycles to be brought in.  The second is its warmth - Jim insulated it very well.

This weekend I spent hours in Birdsong with Jared Shore, a new client who had received a private painting lesson with me from his wife for his birthday.   An accomplished singer/songwriter originally from Calgary, Jared is a speech pathologist and occupational therapist who works with the fine folks at Dr. Clark School.  We had a grand ole time painting Chief Poundmaker and talking up a storm about common interests.

Jared joins Taylor and Jay as unofficial members of Birdsong Studio, with the open invitation to come and paint with me any time.

"I wouldn't want to impose," he said.  "As an artist, you must cherish your private time."

"I get more hours alone in the studio than you can possibly imagine," I said.

The truth is that I like have people in my creative space.

It was equally lovely to have Heather and three of her inner circle in the studio on Sunday as I took them through my "Painting Your Life" workshop.  This was a gift from Heather to her gang as a special surprise.  They went on a journey into their memories and expressed what they saw and felt on the canvas.  It was at times gloriously funny, at other times profoundly moving.

As I sit for hours at my trusty easel - the older one that is covered in many layers of paint - I am mostly alone, surrounded by friends.  To my left at the moment are Miles Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Nimoy, and Winston Churchill.  To my right are Mike Tyson, Sophie and George.  As paintings cycle in and out of Birdsong Studio, my guests change, which is a fascinating dynamic.

My studio isn't overly clean, nor is it completely tidy; it is somewhere in between.  Mostly, it's comfortable and welcoming.  Maybe that is why hundreds of people have been through to visit over the last two and a half years.  If you ever feel like dropping by, be sure to drop me a line.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What I didn't see...

We went to the opening night performance of Footloose The Musical last night.  We saw a lot of strong performances, an impressive set, moving lights and lots of people - the place was packed.  It was some of the things we didn't see that were the most impressive to me.

I didn't see the 18 years of work, determination and perseverance of my son Dylan.  I saw a young man playing his heart out and yes, DANCING!  I will never fully understand what it takes for Dylan to do the things that he does.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one utterly amazed as he moved about the stage as Lyle.  One of his teachers from Educare (pre-school) was in the audience.  She very likely felt the same.

I didn't see the cold and flu that ravaged the cast and crew in the last few weeks.  They delivered an energy-packed show with full commitment.

I didn't see what the amazing dancers went through to add singing and acting to their toolkits.  These young performers give so much to their craft.  Doing a musical stretches their skills and gives so much to our community.  Many of them were with us four years ago when we did Hometown...The Musical!  God bless Choreographer, Dance Coach and Friend Kim Hurley for adding her magic to the show and the overall experience.

I didn't see the hours and hours of dedicated planning and design work that created the spectacle.  From Director Karen Johnson-Diamond to Music Director Hillary Hornberger, from Set Designer Erin T. Gruber to Light Designer Cory Olson; these pros put so much into making what we saw look easy.  It was not.

I didn't see Stage Manager Steph Link juggling a million things at once up in the control booth.  This will be her last production with Keyano Theatre before moving down south.  I can't say enough about this young lady, her excellence and impact.  To say a ginormous hole will be created at Keyano Theatre and in the community when she leaves is the understatement of the year.

I didn't see the work, dedication, and tenacity of Alan Roberts, Director of Keyano Theatre and Arts Centre.  I saw his vision though, and the fruits of his labour.  His passion for theatre, expressed and pursued over decades, is the reason last night happened.  He also has an amazing team that supports him and enables the continued growth and exploration of live theatre in Fort McMurray.

Theatre is like that classic iceberg metaphor, where we only see the very tip above the water.  So much happens behind the set and beyond our view.  What we didn't see is important to acknowledge and celebrate.

Congratulations to the cast and crew of Footloose The Musical.  You've got a bonafide hit on your hands.  Enjoy the run!

Friday, February 17, 2017

The problem with Trump

The first month of the Trump administration has been nothing short of a train wreck, not necessarily for its policies or the work that is actually getting done beyond the spotlight of the circus, but for the behaviour and arrogance of the man in the most powerful position in the world.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902)

Donald J. Trump's recent press conference is a perfect example.  In the pulpit of a presidential press conference he acted like a petulant spoiled child, refusing to answer credible questions from respected and credentialed journalists representing some of the most established media outlets in the world.  It was embarrassing to watch and an affront to the concept of what leadership should be.

If you can compress the essence of his first month in power, it would come down to two words: FAKE NEWS.

Some will say that he is a breath of fresh air, speaking without filters or concern for what people are going to think.  I say that even those people have to be second-guessing their beliefs that his kind of leadership is what is going to make the United States a better country and our world more prosperous, safe and progressive.

What is Mr. Trump saying to our children about what is right and wrong?  What will be the collateral damage in generations to come?    It is almost impossible to imagine what is being done subliminally and constantly to the notions of respect, intelligence, mindfulness, kindness and consideration.  It is impossible to imagine the position of America itself in the minds of humanity after four years of this kind of behaviour from the most influential personality on the planet.

Bets are being made that Trump will get impeached.  I saw one guess that it will happen within 90 days.  I'm sure my American friends are asking themselves: "What the hell can I do to change this situation?"  At some point, the President is going to step into an even bigger pile of poo and discover that he will be unable to dislodge his foot.  It's just a matter of time.  Meanwhile, the news headlines will continue to be dominated by unfathomable actions and reactions of the most unlikely and untenable president in history.  Enjoy the show, because it will eventually come to an end.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What is your flag?

One of my favourite metaphors is the idea of a flag on top of a mountain representing brand, goal, mission, vision....you name it.  On the one side of the mountain is the individual or organization.  On the other side is the rest of the world.

KEY QUESTION:  Do you and those closest to you see the flag?  Do you all have the same understanding of what it represents?  If you and members of your team or inner circle were to describe the flag to others, each in your turn, how would the stories compare?

Whether you are trying to communicate your core purpose or launch a new product, whether you are in a political campaign or trying to establish your personal brand, the task regarding the flag on top of the mountain is the same:  to create a clear vision for what you are about or what you are trying to achieve and be ready to communicate it in a compelling and consistent way.

TRUTH:  If the flag moves around, from the top of the mountain, to your side of the mountain, to a piece of soft earth inside a cave on the other side of the mountain, you've got big problems.

ANOTHER KEY QUESTION:  Do the people on the other side of the mountain see your flag?  Do they understand it?

If your flag is planted in such a way that only your supporters, customers, or loyal fan base can see it, you're doing a disservice to yourself.  Planting it at the very top, with clarity and commitment, allows everyone else to understand who you are, what you want to achieve, and whether or not they might be interested in what you're trying to do.  They may not agree with your approach or what you're selling, but at least they'll know who you are.

So, what is your flag?  Is it at the top of the mountain?  Do you understand it and believe in it passionately?  Can you explain it in a way that is compelling and memorable?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dylan at 18

Many long years ago, Dylan's mom (Nadia) started to experience labour pains while watching a performance of The Taming of the Shrew at Keyano Theatre.  It was a little surprising as it was only mid-February and he wasn't due until April.  Dylan will turn 18 back in the hallowed space where he first insisted he launch into the world.  He is playing Lyle and a member of the Footloose ensemble.  I can't tell you how grateful I am that he gets to be on the stage at Keyano for this significant birthday; it is one of his happy places, a place where he shines.

I don't stop and reflect on his journey as often as I should, probably because it fills me with emotion.  Looking back at the mile markers, Dylan has accomplished so much and grown from a tiny boy (4 pounds) to a man.  It hasn't been easy.

Being born with cerebral palsy gave him an extra set of challenges that honed his abilities to adapt, persevere, and rise to the occasion.  Going through several surgeries and extended stays at the Glenrose Hospital in Edmonton tested him in ways we will never fully understand.  He shared some of the darker aspects of his struggles during that period in a speech at the Peace Warriors Festival a number of years ago.  As I sat there listening to him share his heart and soul with eloquence and unbelievable candor, I had never been more proud.

He finally caught the flu/cold that was working its way through the Footloose cast.  Yesterday he stayed home and worked at doing everything possible to help his body recover and preserve his voice.  At the dinner table last night he made a gesture indicating that he wasn't going to speak; he wanted to save it all for the stage.  He takes his theatrical life very seriously.

I put a post on Facebook a few days ago, asking people to share some thoughts as to how Dylan inspires them.  Here are a few of the responses:

"...incredibly caring and deep..."

"...a heart that genuinely cares for others..."

"...fearlessness to be himself..."

"...ferocious positivity..."

"...his sense of humour is infectious..."

"...he is my greatest teacher..."

"...his inner strength..."

"...his courage..."

"...his work ethic..."

Dylan has so much to offer as he makes the transition from being a teenager to being a man.  As a father, I am rather biased when it comes to both of my sons.  But as Dylan turns 18, I know that he has already made a profound impact on so many people, and that he will continue to do so as he pursues his passions and dreams.

Happy Birthday my son!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Awesome 80's Prom

I am a child of the 1980's.  I fell into puberty at the dawn of the decade as Ronald Reagan took his oath of office and graduated half way through the 10-year stretch.  Being at The Awesome 80's Prom was a complete blast to the past, though I have no memories of actually having had a prom, in the traditional sense.  My mind goes to the grad party we had in a big quonset out on Shianne's farm.

The music, clothing, attitudes, cliques and hair styles all combined to bring those of us of a particular age back to our high school days.  The dinner theatre experience, a fundraiser for Waypoints, is set in 1989, which, in some ways, is a planet away from 1985.  However, there were many things that rang true.

As an actor, I kept thinking how exhausting the dinner theatre format must be for the performers.  They were there when we arrived, and they played out all kinds of improvised shenanigans as we were enjoying our meal.  And I imagine that they were there right to the end, though Heather and I slipped out before the announcement of the voting result for Prom King and Queen.  Some characters never stopped moving and dancing through the whole thing.

As I looked around, guests were laughing, reminiscing, dancing and having the time of their lives.  The immersive dinner theatre format is a home run, and a great time was had by all.

Congratulations to Director Michelle Thorne and her entire team for making it happen.  The number of moving parts behind the scenes to produce an event of this calibre is difficult to comprehend.  They pulled it off and Waypoints raised some wonderful dollars in the process.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Hold a mirror up to nature

We are watching a Netflix series called "Black Mirror".  It is among the most riveting, yet unsettling, shows I have ever seen.  It is also completely different in its concept and delivery.

Each episode is different, a new vignette that revolves around an aspect of technology.  The first one, a near future dystopian piece, imagines a world where social media is not only pervasive; it is the way worth is measured and attained.  People walk around with iPhones in hand and rate each interaction they have, dolling out rating points constantly.  I sat there watching this disturbing story of likes and social media cred gone wild with my own iPhone sitting to my right, lighting up every few minutes with each new life of my latest Instagram post: the definition of irony.

Episode two explored cutting edge gaming while the third took us on an intense ride of a malware penetration that turns into a thrilled (and shocking) blackmail scam.

Technology has its tendrils in so many different aspects of our lives.  Mobile devices have evolved from being nice-to-haves to being sacrosanct.  While we once bemoaned the hours kids (and adults) spend in front of screens, we now find it easier to notice and talk about the scant hours when they (and we) are not.  Going for a walk, having a conversation, playing a musical instrument, writing a letter to grandma, playing outside in the years and reading a book have become the exceptions instead of what our generation once considered to be normal life.

What will normal life be like for our kids and the children they will have?  What about the generation that follows after that?  As that guy with the funny voice from The Princess Bride says: "Inconceivable!"

This series, if you're up to the discomfort it dishes out, would be a great activity for families with teenagers.  Watch, react, then discuss.  Awareness is the first step to changing anything.  This show "holds a mirror up to nature".  We may not like what we see, but it would get us talking about it.