I struggled to call myself an artist for a long time, and even now I still have to work at it

Identity is a strange thing. For many years in my life, although I was a writer in my spare time and a performer whenever I could find a project, whenever someone would ask what I did, I would describe my day job. Because I felt that since I didn’t wrote or perform full time, that I could not use those titles to describe myself. That I wasn’t enough of an artist to describe myself as one. I no longer feel that way, but getting here was a long journey.

I still feel like an imposter, though. While I write and perform as much as I can, I don’t perform as often as I would like. I have been at the mercy of Fringe lotteries for a long time, which does limit how often I can perform, since those lotteries have seldom been in my favour. So while I have plays that have been written, it’s rare that they get performed. There are grants that I can apply for, but there are certain grants that I feel guilty applying for because I feel like those grants should go to people who need them for subsistence. Writing grants especially. But I do feel like grants are necessary to be taken seriously. But I come back to feeling guilty about taking a grant.

So I wonder if it is possible to be taken seriously as a theatre artist in Canada while working a day job. Is it possible to be taken seriously as a theatre artist without grants?

I guess the real issue is that I am coming to a point when I want to be creating more. It’s an unreliable way to perform, and I am getting too old to wait for the opportunity to put my work out. As the saying goes, I don’t want to leave my music unsung, my stories untold.

I need to find ways to make it happen, to put my work on stage. And I need to find ways to make that happen as much as often as I can. And I need to find ways to do that. I need to figure out if my assumptions about grants have been wrong. Or are there other ways to fund the art?

And I need to figure it out. I have so much to share.

Macbeth: the pro wrestling pay per view match

Quite a few years ago, I went through a phase where I was really into pro wrestling. I was fascinated by the audience manipulation, the spectacle, the way a show seemed like random matches, but somehow managed to culminate in something that tied it all together. And let’s face it, while wrestling had long since given up  pretending it was real,  you had to admit that there was some real athleticism there! I wasn’t obsessed, but for a while I watched a lot of it. 

At the around the same time, I was working on a production of Macbeth, and it was maybe my 3rd time doing that particular Shakespeare play, and that gave me a lot of familiarity with the text, and it was in the after one performance, that I suddenly made a connection. What if you staged Macbeth as a wrestling pay-per-view?

And the more I thought about it, the more it worked.

Because in a wrestling event, you have this format, where someone gets up and monologues, and then someone else comes in and they might say something in response, and then they fight. And surprisingly, that works really well with the text of Macbeth.

I mean, you have this section near the end:


MACBETH
They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,
But, bear-like, I must fight the course. What’s he
That was not born of woman? Such a one
Am I to fear, or none.

Enter YOUNG SIWARD

YOUNG SIWARD
What is thy name?

MACBETH
Thou’lt be afraid to hear it.

YOUNG SIWARD
No; though thou call’st thyself a hotter name
Than any is in hell.

MACBETH
My name’s Macbeth.

YOUNG SIWARD
The devil himself could not pronounce a title
More hateful to mine ear.

MACBETH
No, nor more fearful.

YOUNG SIWARD
Thou liest, abhorred tyrant; with my sword
I’ll prove the lie thou speak’st.

Now take whatever image you have of a Shakespeare staging that you have in your mind and toss it away. And replace it with a wrestling ring, lights, pyrotechnics, and guitar driven music, and two guys with microphones. Macbeth is in the ring. The audience is booing him. Young Siward enters (with theme music and pyrotechnics) but he stays near the entrance, at the top of the ramp down to the ring. They have their back and forth, and at the end with his with my sword I’ll prove the lie thou speak’st he runs down the ramp, launches himself into the ring and fights with Macbeth, who defeats him handily, and awaits the next match.

This was the first moment where the wrestling idea occurred to me. But it worked with many other moments, both later (like the final face off between Macbeth and Macduff) or earlier (the Lady Macduff/Murderers scene). And in true wrestling pay-per-view traditon, some scenes would take place backstage, projected onto the jumbotron, with the crowd cheering or booing. It wasn’t hight art, and it was kinda dumb, but it was fun to consider this strange staging.

I was reminded of this old idea hearing about the Pro Wrestlng Rock Musical The Last Match. It turned out, I wasn’t the only one who had considered the merging of theatre and wrestling.

Of course, my idea couldn’t be done. Not really. Its too expensive, with the lights and pyro, and music and ring and arena. And while it is a fun “thought production” its not one that I am really jazzed about  pursuing. But I was really thrilled by the idea of taking Shakespeare out of the theatre, and making it an immersive experience. 

The real immersive Shakespeare experience that I have been mulling over for a few years? I’ll keep that one to myself for now, because that one I really want to make happen.

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 pursue with a religious fervour. 

Because the tragedy of discovering 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.