I Found Religion at The Church of the Immaculate Hamburger

I have always been a hamburger guy. I love a good hamburger. I really love a great hamburger. The problem is that there are so few great hamburger spots in the world. But when you find a really great burger, its a wonderful thing – while you’re eating it. And then when you’re done, you realize that every burger you have for the rest of your life will be measured against that burger. And you’ll be chasing that burger for the rest of your life. That burger, will become The Immaculate Hamburger, and finding its equal will be something you pursure with a religious fervour. 

Because the tragedy of disovering the Immaculate Hamburger is if there’s no way to get that hamburger in your home city.

I found my Immaculate Hamburger in New York City. There was a chain that I’d heard about, and had been told that since I was a “burger guy” I would absolutely have to try a burger there. And so, when I went to New York, I went looking for it.  I went to the first location I could find. The burger was everything I had wanted it to be. Because a burger needs to be balanced. The bun should be soft (maybe a light toasting), the patty has to be cooked right, and just the right amount of (please forgive the use of the word) moistness. A dry hamburger patty is the worst crime a burger joint can commit. You know, aside from food poisoning. So I guess I’ll amend that: its the second worst crime a burger joint can commit. The toppings need to be in balance too, but you don’t need to many of them. Some places will put so many things on a burger that it doesn’t even feel like a hamburger any more. All you really need is some crisp lettuce, a slice of tomato, and one perfectly melted slice of cheese, and a sauce, either something generic like mayo, or something house made. The burger I had that day was exactly what I wanted. No. It was what I needed. That burger took me to church, and I became a convert right then and there. 

And from that time onwards, I wanted to go back to church. But since that chain doesn’t exist in Toronto, I had to try other options. And there were some decent burgers. But none of them were my Immaculate Hamburger. Don’t get me wrong, there were some really good burgers, but none of them were THE BURGER. But what’s worse, is that as a person who loves burgers, there were so many mediocre burgers, and wile they might have been acceptable previously, I’d found religion so a mediocre burger was no longer something I would put up with. So most of the big chain burgers were out. So I tried burger after burger after burger. I’ve found some that are close, but never the equal of my Immaculate Hamburger. 

And so, still I worship at the Church of the Immaculate Hamburger, still seeking, still wanting, still waiting until I can have it once again.

I started out wanting to podcast because I liked the idea of podcasting

I currently have two podcasts, one weekly podcast about Canadian theatre (Stageworthy) and one  for introverts called The Introvert’s Guide To… which  I co-created and co-host, that comes out every  two weeks.

I remember the first time I heard about podcasting: I read about Adam Curry and podcasting, and was really excited about the idea of how it was suddenly possible to host an internet radio show, without a studio or the need to have a broadcast license. I listened to some early podcasts, even before Apple had introduced podcasts on iTunes. I even tried it out a bit, but this was long before there were the kind of services that’s exist now. I learned to create my own RSS feed to deliver the podcast (which thankfully, I don’t have to do anymore), but that was a lot of work, and I gave that initial project up, becasue I didn’t yet have a real idea of what I wanted to do with a podcast.

Years later, I was an avid listener of podcasts, and was listening to the American Theatre Wing’s Downstage Center podcast, hosted at the time by ATW Director, Howard Sherman. On one episode, the guest was Stephen Ouimette who was in New York performing performing a show, and I  realized that this was the first time I had heard a Canadian on the podcast. Were there any Canadian theatre podcasts? I looked around and at that time I couldn’t find any, so I started thinking about how I might create one of my own. 

I also thought it was a great way to challenge my introverted self and to force myself to talk to new people each week (I was right, BTW).

My first theatre podcast, called Offstage, ran for a couple of years, but I was recording episodes and releasing them the same week I recorded, and that was an exhausting schedule and became too much to sustain.

A few years later, missing the podcast, and after figuring out how to make doing a weekly podcast easier to manage (record a bunch of episodes in advance and bank episodes) I started Stageworthy, which is now 7 years old, and a couple of years after that, came The Introvert’s Guide To…which I created with my friend Jess Gorman.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years of podcasting, is to be a bit more relaxed. I used to worry a lot about not having an interview ready to go every week with Stageworthy. Its a lot of pressure to do a weekly podcast for seven years, and in the past when I have started to run out the bank of episodes I’ve recorded, I would get a little anxious. That anxiety came from the self-imposed need to produce the podcast every week, and not from any other obligation. But the only obligations that exist are to myself and to the guest, and of course the audience to whom I commit to provide episodes. But there’s no financial obligation. I don’t make anything from either podcast, but it does cost money to put them out, from hosting to website costs, to editing, and other promotional tools. So, i do both podcasts for the love of it, and not for any other reason.

But what is it that I like about podcasting? Its some of what I initially thought about podcasting: how it doesn’t take an elaborate setup, or equipment. But also, how easy and inexpensive it is. Now, there can be costs. While there are free tools to get started (like places to host the audio files), with 350+ episodes of Stageworthy, I have long exceeded the threshold for free. But compared to radio, the overhead is low. And I like how its a great way to connect with people. I have had people as guests on Stageworthy who have become friends. And I didn’t know Jess very well before we started co-hosting together, but can now count her as a good friend. But most of all, what I like best, is that with both podcasts, I contribute to a community, that in some way, I’m doing some good for those  communities. And what could be better than that?

It was just a picture of a lion, and I was just a kid who thought that lions were cool to draw.

This is the story of how I stopped drawing, and came to believe that I “couldn’t” draw.

Before I was six or seven, I loved to draw. So I drew, I painted, and I really enjoyed it. And I was really proud of the pictures I made. 

That’s not to say that the pictures I drew or painted were particularly good. My paintings and pictures were a child’s paintings and pictures, lacking in perspective and depth, or even realism. But painting for the joy of it, without worrying about things like that is a child’s prerogative, something that can grow into something more given time, encouragement, and nurturing. But at that time I was just making pictures because I enjoyed it.

And then I stopped. And I remember when I stopped and why.

I was a sensitive kid. I was easily embarrassed, and hated feeling that way. My face would go very red and I would want to hide. I took the things that were said to me to heart. I lacked a certain amount of confidence in myself. This was tied up with my dyscalculia. After all, if couldn’t do simple math (simple to other people, that is) what other supposedly easy things couldn’t I do? The math thing really made me doubt myself, doubt my ability, made me think I was stupid. But the story of how dyscalculia eroded my childhood self confidence is another post altogether.

But this is when I stopped drawing.

We had a babysitter, and my parents were out. I remember painting. And I was painting a lion. I was very proud of the lion was drawing. I selected light brown paint, for body, including its flower shaped mane, and I gave it a smiling face because why wouldn’t a lion be happy? And I gave it long claws, because that’s what a lion had in my child’s mind. It was a perfectly serviceable child’s lion. And I showed it to the sitter, quite proud of my work. And the critique I got was that my drawing didn’t look like a lion, and a detailed description of everything wrong with it. And after that I no longer enjoyed drawing.

I remember this moment quite vividly. This shattering of my confidence. And this moment, started to take root into my mind, as it grew into the idea that I could not draw, that I some lacked ability. And so I stopped drawing. And when opportunities to draw or do art came up, I simply said that I couldn’t draw.

And of course, because I wasn’t drawing, I didn’t draw, so it became true: I couldn’t draw.

And I know people who draw and make beautiful art. People who make comics. People who design. And I admit that yhave been jealous of their ability, because I imagine things that I want to draw, projects that I want to create, and I can imagine myself drawing. But when I pick up a pencil, I just “can’t”. That lack self confidence that was planted so many years ago rears up, and the self fulfilling statement continues “I can’t draw”. 

I know that it’s all in my head. I’m determined to release this mental block, and to unlearn this idea that I have that I “can’t” draw. It’s an old belief, and that makes it hard to let go of, but not impossible.

Goodbye Twitter, I’ll miss what you once were

I first joined Twitter in 2007. At the time, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I’d heard a few people mention it, and thought I would try it out. It drew me in pretty quickly. At the time, it was a way to connect with people. What made It wonderful then was the fact that it was social. If you just wanted to blast your opinion out into the world without any regard for interacting with other people, it wasn’t for you. What made it great was the way that you could interact with people, and they would respond. And it was friendly.

And it was great for making connections. I remember the my first Summer on Twitter at the Toronto Fringe, and how you’d see someone that you kinda knew from twitter, and ask Are you weirdusername? And they’d usually answer yes, and then you’d hang out for the evening. Or if you were not comfortable doing that, you’d tweet at them and ask if they were at the Fringe tent right then, and effectively do the same thing. It was a great way to connect, and to – dare I say it – to network.

I remember when I discovered the 2AM Theatre people: an amazing community of passionate theatre creators from all over North America (and perhaps beyond), and how those twitter conversations kept me going through a period of my life when I wasn’t making theatre. I still follow a lot of those people today.

And there was weird twitter. People like Jonny Sun’s “aliebn that doesbn’t understband engblish”. The Angelina Jolie’s leg account. Strange little in jokes that popped up and that we shared and loved. And that we couldn’t really share with people not on Twitter, because you actually had to be there in the moment for it to make sense.

Twitter then was a bit messy, it went down a lot (the “failwhale” was a regular sight). But it was warm. And it was fun. That’s gone now. And its been gone for a long time. I’ll miss that aspect of twitter, because I don’t think there’s any way to get it back. But I wanted to remember what it once was. Because maybe it might disappear forever, and it would be a shame for what it is now to be the only thing I remember about it.

Canadian Star System

This essay first appeared on the March 1 episode of Stageworthy Podcast.

Have you noticed that we don’t have stars in Canada? Now I don’t mean those people that we all know the names of who’ve gone to the U S or to England to become famous, but we still claim them as our own. No, I mean, we don’t have any home grown and fostered theater stars. By that. I mean, we don’t have names that are a draw. We don’t have actors whose names can go on a poster. And just by being there become a draw in other countries, like in the U S and in the UK, an actor’s name can work as a draw, but in Canada, That’s such a rare thing. And sometimes we don’t even see any actors names on a poster.

Now, a cynical person would think that maybe this is a tactical decision on the part of the producers, because weighing the value of a star. They have to think that perhaps it’s better to pay actors less than to have actors whose name have recognition because a star can make demands. A star has power.

So perhaps the wisdom is to ensure that we have no stars, no names that can be a draw so that we keep everyone just thankful to be working so that no one questions how much they’re paid. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. We’ve seen the death of theater, journalism, and arts journalism as a whole, as the media landscape shrinks.

And it becomes harder for theater companies to get media attention, then promoting the actors in the show and pushing them to any media that still pays attention to the theater would not only be a way to keep audiences coming, but an investment in the future because an actor with name recognition is a draw a way to sell tickets.

But of course you can’t do that if you have no recognizable actors and I’m not talking about actors whose names are recognizable within the theater community, we have lots of those. Those names might be well-respected, but they don’t necessarily sell tickets. I’m talking about names that can be recognizable to the general public.

But we can’t have that. If an actor is largely unnamed from show to show, I can’t think of a Canadian theater actor who could star in a play whose name would make the general public want to purchase tickets. Occasionally in the past, there have been productions of shows that have brought in an actor who was legitimately famous.

For example, there was the famous – or was it infamous – production of Hamlet that started Keanu Reeves. And it’s obvious that this was stunt casting and attempt to bring in a movie star to sell tickets. But why does something like that happened with a movie star who I’m sure was paid a lot of money, but there’s no chance of that with a Canadian theater actor who isn’t already a movie star.

The movie star is allowed to be an above the title draw but what other Canadian actor can boast the same? Is the problem the lack of entertainment coverage in Canada? As a member of the media, I am regularly sent press releases for shows, and those press releases always list both the cast and creative team.

Now I’m a weekly podcast with a modest reach, and I try to interview as many people as possible, but I can only get to so many, but with a daily paper, with a large reach, you would get so many more press releases than I do. And often the ones that stand out are the ones with a PR person that the reporter knows.

And in those cases, the PR or public relations person is going to try and get some kind of write-up for the production. And maybe this might’ve been easier years ago when there was more coverage, but there are so few publications doing regular theater coverage. It seems nearly impossible now. So maybe the death of arts coverage is part of the problem, but that isn’t all of it because the problem has existed for longer than the recent deterioration of the media landscape, because we haven’t ever really had theater stars in Canada.

And I know that while there might be good things about a star system, there’s also plenty of bad. Isn’t it? Nice to think that all the actors get this same, that there’s an egalitarianism to being a working actor in Canada, but that’s not quite true because if I have the lead in a show, I do get paid a little more, but I’m not a star. Not really not like in other places.

Of course, anyone who’s spent any time paying attention to the entertainment industry in Canada knows that we don’t have stars. And we don’t really consider anyone a star until they’ve had success elsewhere. And for a while, I thought that was just a part of being Canadian, but on reflection, I don’t think it is.

Maybe it’s more about the entertainment media that we do have spending more time talking about American artists than it does our own home grown talent. Maybe that combined with producers who want actors to just be thankful to be working, keeps the Canadian artists small. But I think that we deserve better.

We deserve to have homegrown talent that stays here and becomes a household name. Canadians need to see themselves on their stages. And that includes seeing Canadian names above the title and celebrated for being a Canadian artist who stayed in Canada rather than leaving for the U S.