Wednesday, March 30, 2011

{W5H} Tracey Erin Smith

Tracey Erin Smith is one of those people you meet and it feels like you've known each other since high school. Or are currently in high school together.  She has such a contagiously positive vibe about her, but with a tinge of that all refreshing bite that you need in a good high school buddy. If we were in high school together, I imagine that we would be those two girls in the back of Period Three World Issues, who would diligently take down notes and participate in important World Issues debates, but would also spontaneously giggle and be caught many-a-time for passing notes to each other in class [like "Tretorns are soooo 1988"].

It's this quality that makes Tracey the best kind of teacher. She's been igniting creativity in people of all ages for the past decade as founder and creator of soulOtheatre - an exciting program that designed to help people create their own one-person show. 

And you can sure as hell bet that in her class, spontaneous giggles and passing notes would be encouraged, if not required.

Who was your favourite teacher(s)?
Mr. Moses.  He was my English teacher at Claude Watson High School for the Performing Arts in Toronto.  Mr. Moses had a white beard and rode a motorcycle.  One day I gave him yet another baloney excuse why my English homework wasn’t done. He looked me straight in the eye and said: “You know Tracey, every time you lie, you give a piece of your soul away.”  

When did you discover your identity through art ?
When I wrote my one-woman show, “The Burning Bush!”  It was autobiographical in a fantastical kind of way.  I made my main character over come my worst fear of having to do a strip tease in front of the audience. In rehearsal I pretty much had a panic attack when it came time to rehearse that scene and we incorporated that panic attack into the show.  The character hyperventilates and makes sounds like a sick animal right before she runs on stage and takes off most of her clothes.  So the process of creating a solo show that was loosely based on my childhood dreams of becoming a Rabbi and my fear of getting naked taught, me a lot about myself.  The identity it helped me discover is that I hover somewhere between being a Rabbi and an exotic dancer.

Why do you feel it would benefit artists to collaborate?
Creative collaboration is definitely an inspiring equation of the sum being bigger than it’s individual parts.  I have seen in solo show classes I lead that working in a group helps creators come up with ideas they may not have got to on their own.  It’s such a cool moment when a class mate says just the thing you need to hear to put that missing piece in place for you that takes your show to the next level.  It’s awesome when that happens. Everyone wins.  The creator has a breakthrough and the classmate that gave the idea gets the instant satisfaction of helping someone in a creative and meaningful way.  
Where is it that you find, are the most valued elements in art?
What I most value is when someone reveals a truth about him/herself and therefore shares with us what it is to be human. I am so moved by honesty. It takes courage to be honest. It can be the hardest and the most freeing thing to reveal the truth, your truth.    
What is your artist style?
I asked my fiancĂ© to answer this question and he said:  My artist style is compassionate, humanistic, loving and passionate.  (He may be a little biased)  I would add that my style to use what ever means are necessary to help others find their authentic style.  I try to bring all of who I am to my teaching and hope that that give those present the permission and safe environment to let all of themselves come out and play. I have noticed when people feel free to be themselves, they create more material for their show and the more they can connect with the beauty, humour and the absurdity of the human experience.
How do you share your style?
Recently some fellow theatre artists and some of my class participants said they see me as:  a Sassy Mystic, a Soulful Sh*t Disturber, a Vixon Superhero Teacher and a Mind Reading Stripper!  It came out of a writing exercise we did to identify who you would be if you were to be a ‘character’ in a play.  Because when you do an autobiographical one-person show, you are a character, the main character!  So it is extremely helpful in the writing to take a step back and see yourself as a character.  I would call this sharing your soul-style with the audience, hence the name soulOtheatre.  

[L'il Tracey]

Tracey is founder and creator of soulOtheatre, and an award-winning solo performer and playwright. Her hit one-woman show The Burning Bush! has been performed Off-Off Broadway in New York City, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax.

Tracey will be teaching her weekend workshop in New York City, April 15-17 at The TheaterLab.

Thanks Frost for the wonderful set of W5H Questions.

Monday, March 28, 2011

{fieldnotes} : the paprika festival

I had the pleasure of taking in a wonderful reading this past Saturday of a splendid new play, Henry and Lucy, by Rosamund Small.  Bravo Rosamund on your beautifully crafted play, filled with insight, humour, wonderful characters and kinetic dialogue.

Congratulations to The Paprika Festival and ten years of championing emerging young artists!

[The beaming Artistic Producer, Rob Kempson]

Sunday, March 27, 2011

{omb} vintage - 5 simple rules for romance

January 1, 1988
twelve-years old

Note: bubble-style exclamation marks = severity and utmost importance.

Friday, March 25, 2011

{friday classics} - year of the pig

february 2 2009

darrel said to me
"you're not 12 years older than i am. that would make you a pig"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

{dressing room essentials} keith barker

As I mentioned earlier, I was doing a show at LKTYP [soon to be changed back to YPT in July] at this time last year. I loved my little dressing room - the temperamental dimmer on the lights, well-used chairs, the utilitarian hooks. In between scenes, I used to go into that little room and imagine how casts-gone-by would personalize this blank-canvas of a space for themselves. 

In this new feature, I've asked friends in shows to take a picture or two [or in Keith's case, four] of their dressing room spaces and send me a list of 5 things they consider essential for their space and why. 

First up, Keith Barker. Ask anyone about Keith and undoubtedly they will say "he's one of the nicest guys I've ever met". So true. He's also a wonderful photographer. Keith is currently acting in Tombs of a Vanishing Indian by Marie Clements at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.  

  1. script.  i like to have it on hand so i can look at my notes, to run lines, to check beats, blocking and other such things.
  2. smudge kit.  in the last few years i've been in several plays that dealt with some very difficult material.  smudging grounds me, and clears my head and heart.
  3. valor.  it's an essential oil i use during shows.  some wise women gave it to me during a show once and i've used it ever since.
  4. water bottle. nothing like keeping hydrated.  especially when i start getting the nervousness.
  5. coffee.  i like a little java before a show.  my mom likes a cup of coffee at night and i like that she is part of my preshow ritual.   

Tombs of a Vanishing Indian is on stage until March 27th. 

Keith's debut play The Hours that Remain will have a public reading on March 28th, 2011 as Part of Foundry Theatre Company's current season.

ps. I love that valor is essential.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

{lost and found} cbc's outfront

In the fall of the 2007, I travelled to Saskatchewan for the first time and took my mom with me. It wasn't mom's first time. She lived there from 1967 to 1969. But she hadn't been back there in forty years.

[mom in front of training hospital, Prince Albert Saskatchewan 1967]

Mom immigrated from rural Philippines to rural Saskatchewan in 1967. She responded to an ad in a Filipino newspaper saying Canada was recruiting nurses. A letter and a few documents sent and received, soon she was on a plane to Canada, where, in exchange for nursing, she would become a Canadian citizen*.

That trip in 2007 was overwhelming, wonderful and emotional. Not only was it a homecoming of sorts, it was also the first time I'd travelled anywhere with just my mom. This trip was research for a play I am writing inspired by her first to years in Canada [more on that later]. As an added bonus, I successfully pitched the trip to CBC Radio's documentary program Outfront. The resulting piece, Yellow Rubber Boots, aired on the CBC in March 2008 and lived in what I believed was podcast perpetuity on the Outfront CBC Website. I was wrong.

In March 2009, as part of sweeping cutbacks at the CBC, Outfront was cancelled. I naively believed that despite the cut, the Outfront archives would still exist on the CBC website. Nope.

I am sure you can imagine my delight when a recent google search discovered a website called had archived all the episodes of The Best of Outfront. And lo and behold, I found my piece, mislabeled in the week of of March 12, 2006, but who cares!

So, in the spirit of lost and found, here's the link to the radio documentary Yellow Rubber Boots. Have a listen if you have the time. And rummage through the rest of the archives to listen to more buried treasures.

[mom in front of training hospital, Prince Albert Saskatchewan, 40 years later]

*I've been ruminating a lot over the past few days on this article published in this past Saturday's Globe and Mail. Moreover, I have been upset over the comments online and feeling rather helpless about it.  Instead of adding to the comments, this blogpost is my Playwright-Daughter-of-a-First-Wave-Filipino-Canadian response.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

{W5H} Marcelino DaCosta aka. Frost

There are some people you meet who just resonate. Marcelino, aka Frost, is one of those people. We met at the Canadian Stage intensive. I was struck by his passion, curiosity, vulnerability and wisdom. On the first day of the intensive, he said something that had such an impact on how I view our work as Artist Educators. He said "We are meant to serve. We are servants"; a concept that I find full of both humility and purpose. 

He's the kind of person that you want to walk into your classroom, community or studio, because he is there to learn as much as he is there to teach. 

Who first gave you the confidence to be an artist? Who first gave you the confidence to be an educator?
I'd say, that I’ve always been drawn to art, pardon the pun. I'm originally a visual "artist" and became a street dancer in 98' focusing on original Hip-Hop style of "B-Boying" which I am still a practitioner of today.  Through training and growing with my crew, performing, winning competitions, meeting comrades around the world and learning from pioneers as well as true students of the art and culture, I began to form more confidence. After graduating from Sheridan College studying community outreach and development, I met one of my first educator/producer inspirations, Beth Gignac who is well known in the City of Mississauga, is currently an Arts Manager for the City of Calgary. She inspired me to think bigger and not be afraid of producing compelling ideas that could bridge gaps between people or arts and culture, as well as encourage my perspective around social justice.

What inspires your work as an artist educator? What feeds you? 
Life inspires my work, learning more wisdom from living- doing things right or making mistakes. Education, I'm currently working on my degree at York University doing Fine Arts & Cultural studies.  Growth in my craft, learning more history for sharing material that's based on experience, understanding relationships between people and how they interact also inspire me. Another thing that feeds me is when I create or learn more techniques to apply along with my experimentation. I make it my signature to never teach the same class twice, you never fully know what you'll get, except that either way it's gonna be quality and something to grow with and discuss.

When did you first feel like an "artist"? 
Been trying to be careful with that term "Artist" it has a lot of social constructs attached to it that may imply a level of supremacy.  I was ok with that for awhile? *laughing* cause I've been used to feeling that what I do makes me a like a superhero! and why not? like others who do what I do - I have an alter ego, a performance character and have supernormal abilities.  However I think a term like practitioner would better define and represent how I feel about Hip-Hop culture and my role within it. I began to feel like a true practitioner after I started teaching what I do, learning from pioneers locally and developing my own theories around creating original concepts. I think also when you learn to know your worth and make your exchanges the way you want (whatever those may be) then you're on the right track in my opinion. 

Where do you "work"?
That depends on the context, if I'm professionally doing "work", then it's in studios, community centres, drop-ins, schools, public and private venues, other communities. Some of my most favourite and full filling work is with my crew "Ground illusionz", a community Hip-Hop Group I formed in 1999. "G.I." works on an informal grassroots level for the purpose of training young practitioners of hip-Hop culture to professionally develop, compete, perform and teach and gain life skills. I also work as a facilitator with UNITY Charity, which is a not-for-profit public health organization. We offer alternative arts education and opportunities using Urban Non-violent Initiatives Through Youth. And finally, the work I've gained some my most relevant experience, is being a senior facilitator for the world renown "BluePrintForLife- Social Work through Hip-Hop" organization. BluePrint works with various indigenous communities across Canada's remote Arctic with the intentions of fostering the sharing of traditional culture & promoting healing.  Other stuff I consider "work" would be on myself (if there is really a self) I'm always trying to grow professionally and personally.

Why do you think arts education is valuable in today's capital-based world?
I'll make this one simple. Humans encouraged to learn and practice the arts, in short - is like creating and maintaining the most amazing custom vehicle of your dreams. If one learns and practices the arts, they travel more freely on the map of life, by evolving their perspective and problem solving skills, learn to have stronger values and cultural sensitivity, direction and aesthetic sensibility, formulate an opinion with facts and reason, promote healing, develop a sense of identity and imagination, unify with a community and think critically.  Problem is that most people in positions of power don't like their people getting smarter and/or having their own voice.  I don't need to explain why, the rest is 'his'tory.

How did you come to your first experience with the professional arts?
Probably at the same time in my development when I cognitively understood the concept of "performance" and the level of skill it takes to accomplish things that seem so simple, powerful or didactic. I would witness this at rock concerts, underground Hip-Hop shows and seeing my heroes based out of the Toronto scene like "Bag of Trix", "Intrikt", & "Boogie Brats" doing their thing in 99'.   After that, my personal history in growing as an artist/practitioner lead me to experience performing, competing and teaching, one understands "professional arts" more when they actually live life that way. It's different when you're on the inside actually bleeding for what you do, that's when your perspective can't be contested.

[vintage Frost]

Marcelino is a Professional Street Dancer and Community Outreach Worker. He has worked with people of all ages in Mississauga, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Whitehorse and Halifax. 

Thanks Rob Kempson for this great set of W5H questions.