November 29, 2011

Them's Judging Words

A theme that's emerged in Creative Communications this term is the power of words to pass judgement.

Journalism class featured a strongly worded instruction on using the word "suffers" to describe anyone coping with an illness (she suffers from cancer, he suffers from parkinson's). The instruction was DON'T YOU DARE. Unless we were going to quote their own words, we weren't ever to use the word 'suffers' for fear of belittling a person - making them a victim instead of a human.

It was a harder mental shift than I expected. Because disease and misfortune are unpleasant, right? You don't enjoy illness - you suffer. These same thoughts occurred when I was a boy growing up in church and the minister preached on Romans 5:3 "... but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance." My seven year old mind rebelled at the idea.

I realize they're not the same concept, but I think my objection to both was similar. Namely that we don't exist independently of our circumstances. If someone stabs me, I will cry. Everyone cries when they're stabbed.

That was my objection at the time. But over the past four months, I find my thoughts swinging the other way. Not because of increased perseverance; I'm a giant suck of a kitten and always will be. And not because of increased faith; stay tuned for my 'holiday' post to deal with that.

But from the continual stream of examples I've been shown where a "factual" story describing a person's circumstances/misfortune have not captured the full picture of those people.

Example 1: Statistic or Dancer

The first story treats Harry Gegwitch as a stat; the second tries to tell his story. Is there a difference between a 'murdered man' and a 'man who was murdered' ?

CBC Winnipeg - Winnipeg breaks homicide record with 35th death
Global Winnipeg - Powwow dancer is Winnipeg's 35th homicide victim

Example 2: Hooker or Sex Worker

This one I admit I have still wrestle with, in part because I don't think 'Tilly's' experience is the norm. But then again, maybe I'm being judgemental...

Winnipeg Free Press - Cops shut Wolseley brothel
Winnipeg Free Press - A Call for Respect

Example 3: Creep or Samaritan

This is less to do with specific words, so much as the arrangement of some words and the leaving out of others. See what your reaction to the first story is, then read the second.

CTV Winnipeg - Worker charged with assault...
Winnipeg Free Press - This good deed was punished

With those examples in mind, I'm curious about your take on the story linked below. Do you think the story paints the boy as only a victim? Is it all right to say he suffered from anxiety? Thoughts?

Winnipeg Sun - Bullied boy took his own life

(the video linked in this post is from the hilarious Canadian series Slings and Arrows. So funny. One of the funniest Canadian series I've ever watched. Would that all our comedies aimed so high. Check it out)

November 28, 2011

Boy Child

A blog post where I pay it forward. Local actor and footy fan Rod Beilfuss introduced me to Scott Walker. So let me introduce him to you:

Boy Child
You'll lose your way
A boy child rides upon your back
Take him away
Through mirrors dark and blessed with cracks
Through forgotten courtyards
Where you used to search for youth
Old gets a new life
Reach out you can touch it's true
He's not a shadow of shadows
Like you, you see
Hearts hold on holding
If you stay one, you'll stay free
Go seek the lady
Who will give, not take away
Naked with stillness
On the edge of dawn she stays
Nights starts to empty
That's when her song begins
She'll make you happy
She'll take you deep within her
Window lights for wanderers
Hide hard in your swollen eyes
Echoes of laughter
Hide in the cities thighs
Love catch these fragments
Swirling through the winds of night
What can it cost
To give a boy child back his sight
Extensions through dimensions
Leave you feeling cold and lame
Boy child mustn't tremble
'cos he came without a name

November 24, 2011

Chatting with Crazy

I arrive at the Princess Campus Tim Hortons this morning to observe the line for a college project. I sit down at a table; there's one, roughly 50 year old man sitting there, reading his paper.

He starts talking about the upcoming Grey Cup. I assume he's talking to the people at the table behind us, but no, they get up and leave. And he keeps talking and giggling...

The following are highlights of the ensuing (mostly one-sided) conversation I had with Rick the Prick (as he called himself)

"So what are you doing?"
"I'm doing a survey for a project."
"Oh yeah, well I'm going to get you arrested! (walks to officer in line) Hey cop! This guy is doing a survey!"

"I'm just waiting here until 9am. That's when the bar opens. I get my coffee buzz, then I get my beer buzz."

(bringing over young girl who was waiting in line) "This girl will fill out your survey for you."
"No, it's okay, I'm just counting people in line."
(to girl) "You're very pretty." (girl flees)

"Oh, it's gonna be a great Grey Cup. The Lions are so bad, they can't even suck!"

"I'm 25. (giggles) I've been 25 for years."


This post is dedicated to a fellow CreComm first-year (sorry, I don't know your name - you have pink streaks in your hair) who I saw gracefully twist out of Rick's attempt to kiss her hand. Nice move, girl, nice move.

November 20, 2011

Picks of the Litter

Went to see the 2011 Cannes Lions Winners this past week. Here's my favs (you can view all past winners at the Cannes Lions website).

Thank you advertising - you made my life a little bit better.

"Love to Meet You"
Brandhouse - FOXP2 Capetown
South Africa

"Team Hoyt"
TV3 - Bassat Ogilvy Barcelona

"Profile the Governor"
Border Action Network - Y&R New York

November 12, 2011

Remembrance, Children and Optimism

WARNING - This blog post is introspective and sincere. For those who prefer edge, snark and inappropriate humour with their blog post, might I recommend the Professor Brothers' take on Bible History - classic.

I attended the Bruce Park service this past Remembrance Day and watched my father stand at attention with his fellow 402 Squadron members. Memories of services from my childhood - on bases and schools across the country - came back all through the programme. Afterwards, I realized I had never actually thanked my father for his service. That's been fixed now.

In the invocation, Major Brian Slous included these words.

"What we value is preserved by a very thin line. Many standing here have stood on that line. Many have died on that line. Some bear the wounds of having stood on that line. It is a place we are all called to stand. If we fail to stand on that line - to preserve what is good and right - their sacrifice is in vain."

The St. James Cenotaph in Bruce Park

Earlier in the week, Marc Reid from Canada's History Magazine spoke to my CreComm class about Canadian history (shocking, I know). Among other things, he reminded us that in World War I over 600,000 Canadians served and one tenth of that number (over 60,000) died. He painted a picture of trench warfare where, at the sound of a whistle, troops would climb out of the safety of their trenches/holes and make a run at enemy lines - enemy lines defended by machine guns. Seven out of ten soldiers, he said, would be gunned down in the first few seconds. They'd retreat and try again. And again. And again.

Marc spoke about how this sacrifice made Canada a nation: we gained respect from other world powers, took pride in our own fighting forces and found a sense of accomplishment as a people. Which is all very true.

But it doesn't change how stupid, wasteful and monstrous it all was. 60,000 dead, never mind the wounded, the shell shocked. And that was just one country in one war...


Which leads me to the subject of children.

The wife and I have been chatting about future plans - what we'll do when I get out of school, home renovations, etc. And children have come up as a debatable subject. Because she is all for them and I am not. I think they're loud, messy, time-consuming, schedule-wrecking, expensive, disease riddled. (Actually I started a blog with WJT Artistic Producer Michael Nathanson last year, debating the merits back and forth - the blog went kaput due to both of our busy schedules, but you're welcome to read Kids Versus Cats).

The subject came up over tea at Cousin's on Remembrance Day evening. My wife pointed out that all of my 'cons' have equal and opposite 'pros' - kids can be inventive, funny, inspirational, problem-solving, cute, generous wonders.

What finally emerged was a discussion of our attitudes. I am a pessimist. A depressed, artistic pessimist who thinks people are born selfish. I don't have a lot of hope we'll solve global warming or recent economic troubles - not when people in power have an interest in maintaining the status quo. And 60,000 young men died for one country in one war. Why would I want to bring anyone into a world like ours?

My wife asked me to watch the video below for her response. She's clever like that - and very, very patient with me. I've watched it a few times now. It's convincing, though I'm not sure I'm convinced...

Major Slous' words are also weighing on me. Is it my duty to be optimistic?


November 9, 2011

Chatting with Romeo and Juliet

Pam Patel and Marc Bendavid are performing as Romeo and Juliet for the >Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Artistic Director Steven Schipper has chosen to set the play in modern Jerusalem, with the Montagues as Jews, the Capulets as Muslims and the friars, Mercutio and Prince as Christians.

How are rehearsals going?

Marc   It feels right for the two weeks it’s been. The play is starting to take shape. We have lots of work to do but time to do it in.

Pam     The blocking is fluid. It has room to develop, even during the run and I appreciate that. I’m sure everyone does.

How does it feel playing these celebrated roles?

Marc   It doesn’t serve to think of it that way. I haven’t felt like I’m conjuring some ancient actor’s spirit. I try to approach the text thinking about how they would be my words and not think about their history.

Pam     I’m not thinking about other Juliets, although I sometimes use them for reference. Primarily I’m trying to connect with Juliet personally, find what it is in myself that makes me her and be genuine on stage.

How do you connect with your character?

Pam     It didn’t feel I was getting her until we got up on our feet and were blocking the scenes, interacting with other characters. My realizations came based on the way that she moves in the space and the relationships with other characters. Now that I have that, I’m just starting to feel her in my body.

Marc   For me it’s all about the text – the relationships that he has are all in there. They’re in the metre, they’re in the character’s lines. I look for a way that I would say the things that he says and do the things he does – find different meanings for a word, ask someone with more experience for advice. It has to do with my relationship with the text. If there are real mysteries I try to bring in my life to the work and make it as personal as possible, but the basic understanding is in the text.

Do you find the story hopeful?

Marc   As a story it has an enormous amount of hope - I don’t think it necessarily ends on a hopeful note. It’s a director’s choice; there is room for a director to shape the end. Prior to this rehearsal, I would have thought it was a play full of joy that ends terribly. This director has chosen to end hopefully, that’s how the play makes sense to him.

Pam     When I’m in it, I’m not thinking “the audience needs to feel this or that.” This is me being as true to the character as I can be – this is me telling a story. The individual watching it – they’ll feel whatever they feel. I’m not hoping they’ll walk away with this or that, I hope it triggers something, that we are able to trigger some reaction in them. If I was an audience member, I’d think there was a great amount of hope and a great amount of pain.

How has doing this play affected you?

Marc   I never have any idea where I am, what I’m doing, where to be, when to be there. I’ve become some muttering, insane person… which hopefully will go away.

Pam     This experience is a bit wild for me. I never thought I would be doing a Shakespeare play. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate language before, but now – I appreciate so much of the language that I use. It’s something I hope I can bring to my other work.

Marc   I had a teacher at National Theatre School; when he directed our second year Shakespeare play, he became this confused, bumbling, disjointed man. We loved making fun of his befuddlement. Now his behaviour makes perfect sense.

Has the concept (setting the play in Jerusalem) influenced your choices?

Marc   Not really. It’s a basic premise. The themes are there and they happen to fit with a particular part of the world, but they could fit with many places, Rwanda -
Pam     Or here.
Marc   It affords us details, but it doesn’t do anything other than slightly contextualize it for people who might think it’s not a pressing or important play.

Pam     What’s amazing to watch in this process is how these different bodies – with varying backgrounds, ethnicities and histories – how they come into the space and inform one another. It shows that we hold history in our bodies. It’s what I love about this casting – these bodies coming together and informing each other. I think you can see that we bring our own languages, cultures and histories to the stage

Romeo and Juliet runs November 24 through December 17 at RMTC.

November 6, 2011


   n. (merr'meuh ray''sheuhn)
   1. an act or instance of murmuring
   2. a flock of starlings

This past week, a certain politician got me down. His move from supporting green energy to shilling for the Alberta oil sands was depressing; his refusal to directly answer questions regarding that move was depressing; the lack of outrage from our group at being "handled" was depressing.

People suck. Fortunately, this world is filled with more than people. To cheer myself up - and you, should this grey November day be getting you down - a movie shot by two women on the River Shannon.

Mother Nature for the win.

November 4, 2011

Burning Bridges aka Reviewing Theatre

Over the past five years, I've called myself an actor. I've been ridiculously lucky enough to perform with Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Shakespeare in the Ruins, Sarasvati Productions, and Echo Theatre - among others.

More importantly and impressively, I`ve been able to perform with my own company, Theatre by the River. We`ve produced some of the most socially relevant, artistically provocative shows to see the light of day in Winnipeg. I`m immensely proud of what we`ve accomplished and what I`ve been able to do.

But you can`t make a living as an actor in Winnipeg. You really can`t - not unless you`re prepared to travel elsewhere. Or you`re some kind of golden god. Or you have a sugar daddy or momma. The reality is you (hopefully) land a few weeks of work a year, then between shows you work wherever you can get a job. I've poured coffee, been a legislative assistant, built fences, rejigged locks and stacked boxes for eight hours a day (among other things). As I get older - and my financial plans get more ambitious - I can`t live that life anymore.

So I`ve quit. I`m not taking theatre gigs anymore. I`ve enrolled in Red River College`s Creative Communications program to take my `career` in a new direction. But I still want to maintain some connection to theatre.

SO I`ve been tempted to write reviews. Reviewers have an amazing influence over what kind of theatre gets produced (or at least celebrated) in Winnipeg. Reviewing would give me an outlet to not only influence the Winnipeg theatre scene, it would let me do what theatre has always let me do; try to artistically unravel the question "why are we here?"


The problem is that, as a reviewer, I would be in an awesome position of power. Reviews can make or break a show, particularly a small independent show that doesn`t have guaranteed subscribers or operating funds. And the Winnipeg independent theatre scene is populated by my friends - people I love. Sooner or later, as a reviewer I will be required to say what I think about their shows, which isn`t always good things. Mom`s old axiom ``If you can`t say anything nice`` goes out the window when you`re a reviewer.

So I`m hesitant. I really want to stay in touch with theatre while not actually being a performer. And I think there is room for an actor turned reviewer in Winnipeg. But I also don`t want to burn bridges with my friends. I`m putting together an evening of discussion between theatre reviewers and producers - partly because I think a chat would be healthy, but mostly because I want to bounce my thoughts off some qualified minds. Stay tuned for details.

Do you have any thoughts on this? What would you ask a theatre reviewer? What would you ask a local artistic director? Do you even care what reviewers have to say?

November 2, 2011

Selling Booze in Manitoba

This past while, Kenton Larsen has been guiding our advertising class through the stormy waters of liquor advertising in Manitoba. While ads from the States (and even other provinces) are not subject to the MLCC's sometimes bizarre, often confusing rules, locally produced ads are. Some examples of the law:
  • A bar shouldn't speak about the liquor it serves as an "escape" from life's troubles
  • No one can be seen to consume any alcohol
  • A car cannot be heard
  • You cannot use children's music
And so on. I decided to test the limits of these rules (against Kenton's wise warnings) by openly mocking them. If I quote the law that says an ad can't speak to the quality of the booze (I wondered), will I get away with it?

No! Kenton faxed (who does that anymore?) some of our ads over to the MLCC to check if they were on the level. And mine was struck down for implying the very thing I was speaking against. Which... is what I was doing. So I am justly caught. Sigh...

I did get the satisfaction of a good quote though. As relayed to me by Kenton Larsen, the MLCC employee's response to my ad was:

"Your student has broken the law in a very clever way."

Worth the autofail friends, worth the autofail.