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We'll Always Have Toronto

Anne Michaels

by Sean McQuaid

UPEI's "Winter's Tales" visiting writers program has showcased some of Canada's most innovative and successful authors, the latest being poet and novelist Anne Michaels. A Governor General's award nominee, Michaels has been praised extensively for her two poetry collections: Weight of Oranges (1986) and Miner's Pond (1991).

A Toronto native, Michaels feels geography is very central to writing: "If you've lived in a place all your life, you have to find ways to recreate it, reinvent it." She believes a poem is like "an archaeological slice of time, investigating all the aspects of that moment." Michaels sees her writing as a way of preserving a piece of time and place.

This "time capsule" impulse has been a lifelong inspiration for Michaels, who has written ever since she was able to write. "As a very small child," she remembers, "I was conscious that things don't stay the same, and I wanted to keep an experience, to keep a moment."

One of the earliest outlets for Michaels's conservational inclination was a five-year diary in which she recorded things like the weather and other day-to-day trivialities; this was where her enduring habit of recording life's details began- and continues to this day. "I'm interested in the smallest daily domestic detail that makes you understand something you didn't," she says. She tries to convey the totality of human experience.

Inspiration aside, Michaels writes because she wants to make sense of something for herself. "Most often there are several disparate things that are haunting me but I can't find what's connected about them," she says. Michaels seeks "organic, truthful connections" between things, and that sometimes takes years to write.

Michaels hopes her insights are of value to her readers. "I want to unify conflicting ideas, conflicting moralities," she reflects. "Having done that for myself, I have a great desire to give something [to others]. Something of beauty. It's very gratifying for me."

Since writing is such a personal experience for Michaels, she never seriously thought about getting her work published until a publishing representative saw her do a reading and asked her to produce a manuscript. Though she welcomed the exposure, Michaels has always concentrated on developing her work to satisfy herself: "I feel so strongly that you have to listen to your own ear and pay attention and work," she says. "One has to apprentice one's craft."

In keeping with that philosophy of literary growth, Michaels tries to guide other writers in their own development by teaching through an independent workshop (actually a correspondence course). "I'm constantly reaffirming my love of my craft," she gushes. "Sharing the things I love and having other people discover them is great."

As for her own writing, Michaels is still going strong with a recently completed novel, an essay for a new anthology, and ongoing work on a third book of poetry, Skin Divers. For future projects, Michaels continues to collect items for her ongoing scrapbook, even though she isn't quite sure what to do with it all yet. "My next task," she says mysteriously, "is to find out what that next project is from the clues I'm collecting."

Anne Michaels read from her work at the PEI Arts Guild on January 19. She lives in Toronto where she teaches Creative Writing at the University of Toronto.

The Oleannekenstein Monster

Nancy McLure

by Sean McQuaid

Nancy McLure

It's been said that there are no small parts, only small actors: petite, soft-spoken Nancy McLure would qualify (literally) as a small actor, but she has made a big impression on the Island theatre scene as a founding member of Off Stage Theatre and a longtime associate of Theatre PEI - with whom McLure recently landed the female lead in their late March production of Oleanna.

The play, an intense two-character drama exploring the volatile and ambiguous subject of sexual harassment, may seem a bit of a stretch for McLure (best known for her critically acclaimed work in Off Stage's popular Annekenstein productions); however, McLure gleefully mocks her sweetness-and-light exterior as "a good cover. [Oleanna] will allow people to see me in a truer light."

McLure got her start making up plays as a child, and starred in many school productions before getting more formal training at university. It was at UPEI that she first became involved with Theatre PEI; it was also there that she first met and performed with people like Rob MacDonald and David Moses, whom she later joined in founding the Off Stage Theatre company.

While she speaks glowingly of her Off Stage colleagues, McLure claims to be creatively challenged herself: she is uncomfortable with writing but feels she makes up for that as a good critic. "I justify my non-creativity by being a good audience," she says, and she loves to participate in workshopping new plays.

While McLure is uncomfortable with improv, she identifies comedy as her one, true theatrical love. "I like anything I can do well," she says, though she does like a variety of roles and hopes to avoid typecasting. "The voice has been a touchy spot," she admits, referring to her trademark honeyed tones, but she has learned to accept that as a distinctive asset and is no longer as self-conscious about it as she once was.

All things considered, McLure likes the acting life - as long as it jibes with her longtime day job in Veterans' Affairs. "This way," she says, "I get to have a paycheck and have fun." For that matter, McLure even finds fun in her desk job. "It's a paper factory," she admits, "but you can have fun with it. I truly love the detail of clerical things."

McLure has thought of pursuing further schooling, but says she's "just a chicken. . . and a bit of a homebody." Her only immediate goals outside of her work are good leisure time and getting in shape.

Regardless, McLure has acting aspirations. She'd like to play "anybody in a Shakespearean play," which is not surprising since she considers her early role in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to be her best work to date. She considers her most challenging role to have been The Glass Menagerie's Laura since she identified strongly with the character's shyness and vulnerability at the time. "I'm a lot more uptight than [other actors] are," she thinks, "but I'm getting less and less so."

In fact, her new biggest fear is that she may become too confident. Almost purring with dreamy nostalgia, McLure recalls how Annekenstein (and she in particular) enjoyed very favourable media attention during the show's third season. She also remembers, though, how the attention made her painfully self-conscious at the time. "Whenever I start to get cocky," she says, "that's when I worry." Regardless, Oleanna will be an excellent opportunity for McLure to let her growing confidence shine.


Profile: Sharratt, Carmichael and Rolfe

by Sean McQuaid

Steve Sharrat, Margie Carmichael & Sigrid Rolfe

Steve Sharratt and Margie Carmichael have established a reputation for themselves as a popular singing and songwriting duo, but they're breaking new ground with musician Sigrid Rolfe as the trio called Redstone. "We thought of calling ourselves Steve and the Old Babes," Sharratt says, but Redstone was the first name they all agreed on.

Sharratt and Carmichael are both guitarists and vocalists, while Rolfe adds wind instruments like flutes and tin whistles. Carmichael is a lifelong Island native, while Sharratt and Rolfe come from Ontario and Manitoba respectively. All three have lived and played on the Island for many years, and decided to get together as a band just recently.

The trio find it difficult to classify their musical style, but generally agree that they are a totally acoustic, Celtic-tinged folk band. "We're really songwriters who want our songs to be heard, and the best way to do that is to play [them] ourselves," says Sharratt. Their songs have, however, been recorded by such artists as Urban Carmichael and Rita and Mary Rankin.

Rolfe is quick to name her partners (the songwriters) as the founding core of the group. "I mostly play tunes," she says. "Together we've been playing their songs." Sharratt agrees that their repertoire concentrates on their original compositions, but they may do other songs as time goes by.

"We're having too much fun doing our own for now," Sharratt admits. Carmichael adds that they concentrate on ballads and songs about the region. "Songs about da region," Sharratt echoes with his best stereotypical Maritime hick accent, prompting Carmichael to join in while Rolfe laughs hysterically.

Despite the long-standing Carmichael/Sharratt collaboration (a musical duo for roughly one-and-a-half years), Rolfe seems to fit right in with what her partners describe as "a natural progression" from their original group dynamic. Rolfe and Carmichael have played together on and off for the past 16 years, and were among the musicians featured in the highly successful College of Piping album.

The trio say they get along well because they come from similar backgrounds, musical and otherwise. Though they are all parents, Carmichael admits, "we just haven't grown up. We're `nouveau brats.'"

As family individuals, the Redstone members have no intention of touring. For now, they are content to practice and perform at such venues as festivals, events, and concerts. That being said, though, they are quick to add (in unison) that they welcome employment. "A part-time living would be nice," Carmichael muses. "We want to be able to afford to continue doing it."

As long as they can afford it, and as long as it jibes with their day jobs, Redstone will continue to play for the joy of entertaining. "We've been told we're like a breath of fresh air," Carmichael said. "We like to think our music moves people."

Sharratt says it even more excitedly: "If we can make someone smile, dance or put a tear in your eye, boy, that's a real thrill. It's exhilarating."


Margaret Hubley

by Sean McQuaid

Margaret Hubley may not be familiar to you- but you might have seen her shoes. No, she's not a Sears catalogue footwear model; she's a custom shoemaker specializing in theatrical, dance and period footwear.

Now based in Morell, Margaret is an experienced shoemaker and leathersmith who has only recently extended her services to the general public. Prior to that, she worked almost exclusively in theatre.

Margaret got her start about ten years ago when she was working with costuming accessories at Neptune Theatre. She was 19 and enjoying what was her first "real job" when someone suggested she apply to the Stratford Festival for work in their boot department. She did, and was eventually accepted.

For years thereafter Margaret worked with Stratford, Neptune and various other theatre companies. Although she loves theatre, she grew tired of being an employee and decided to become an independent shoemaker. She still takes dance and theatre orders, but now also makes custom shoes for individual private customers.

Considering the many aspects of theatre and costuming she might have followed, one could ask why she devoted herself to shoes; however, Margaret is fervently devoted to this oft-overlooked aspect of show biz.

"[Shoemaking] sort of encompasses all the jobs you do in other areas [of theatre]," she says. "You have to cut patterns, do fittings, use a lot of tools." There's even an element of suspense to the job: "You don't know how it's going to work until you try it on. It takes a lot of planning."

Her favourite types of footwear are period deigns, like Victorian ladies' footwear (because of its graceful lines) and men's Restoration-era footwear (because of its showy style). She makes period shoes for the stage, but is also willing to do these as private orders. Even some of her modern shoe designs have a period "feel" to them, she says.

When asked what sets her apart from the average shoe merchant, Margaret says it's essentially quality: she does custom fitting (which usually fits better than a store-bought shoe) and tries to use better quality material, like leather linings.

Margaret has been pleasantly surprised by private response to her work. She expected a few private orders to supplement her theatre commissions, but finds herself almost constantly in demand. She doesn't expect to get rich off it anytime soon, but hopes to find her own unique market niche and eventually expand.

Ideally, she would like to hire an employee to handle things like the chemical work so that she can concentrate on design work and dealing with people. For now, Margaret works solo and is preparing for the upcoming Christmas Craft Fair at the Confederation Centre. So many feet, so little time. . .

Artist Under Glass

Profile: Blaine Hrabi

by Sean McQuaid

Blaine Hrabi

Blaine Hrabi is a man of many talents- but his most unique claim to fame is the one he cites as his occupation: the manufacture and restoration of stained glass.

Hrabi got into stained glass in Halifax, where he tried his hand at restoration projects and introductory teaching under artist Jacqueline Young. Hrabi, well-versed in various crafts, found stained glass to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable mediums he had ever worked in: a field of "incredible, wonderful craftsmanship."

It's a complex and demanding but aesthetically rewarding craft. A new stained glass work begins with a design drawn to scale (and tailored to a client's specifications); you then select glass whose colours approximate those of your design (the glass comes in base colours like blue, red, and so forth). The potential colour scheme is restricted primarily to shades of the base colours, produced by layers of special stain applied to the glass. This stain can be removed to varying degrees so as to recreate the original colour or gradations thereof (a sort of reverse painting). Once the glass is stained and fired to produce the desired colours, the pieces are fused together in a frame of lead, sealed with putty, burnished, cleaned and mounted for display.

Hrabi researched and practised this arcane art for years, establishing valuable contacts on PEI through a stained glass supply store he opened in Charlottetown in 1981. Though Hrabi became a freelance glass artist in 1984 to devote more time to his growing family, it was through his store that he first met friend and longtime collaborator John Burden. Hrabi hastens to point out that Burden, whom Blaine describes as "one of the best artists on the Island," is the actual designer of their collaborations. Hrabi's interest and skills lie exclusively in the physical manufacture of the glass, working from Burden's designs.

Hrabi's favourite work of late is a solo effort: the restoration of existing stained glass. One of his most inspirational experiences has been with the ongoing restoration of Trinity United Church: he recalls a near-transcendent moment on the scaffolding, with the organ music booming all around him as he looked out at the Basilica some distance away. It's that kind of experience that, for Hrabi, makes all the hard work and dedication worthwhile.

Of course, one also has to make a living- and stained glass has proven surprisingly profitable. Hrabi marvels at how the small, close-knit nature of the Island community allows him to get to know his clientele, and says word-of-mouth has been his bread-and-butter. He and Burden have done commissions of all shapes and sizes, for clients ranging from private buyers to churches to city hall.

Still, Hrabi is, like his glass, multi-faceted. Whatever time isn't spent on his glass and his family goes into hobbies like music and acting. Hrabi is strictly a dabbler in the latter discipline, though he enjoys his forays into community theatre. As for music, Hrabi is a well-known singer and guitarist who, in collaboration with various other local musicians, has played traditional music for years- even opening for the Rankin Family at a folk festival. Hrabi, though, insists his music is "as much a social outlet as anything else. I'd probably feel more comfortable playing in somebody's kitchen than somebody's stage."

Regardless, Hrabi continues to play his many parts, careful to give each their due. "I try to create a fine balance," he says, and as long as he does his best in each pursuit, everything- like pieces of stained glass- seems to fall into place.

Making the Confed' Centre Shine

Paul Druet

by Sean McQuaid

Paul Druet

Paul Druet, clad in shorts and seated in the grass with a good book, looks and sounds as contented as the proverbial clam when asked about his work as head of the Confederation Centre's lighting department.

"I'm one of those rare people who really enjoys what he does," he says. There's always new pieces, new faces, new events. You don't stagnate. You know you're alive. Like most people in this business, I can't think of anything else I'd really rather do."

Druet and many of his lighting crew started out in a high school drama club at Charlottetown Rural under teacher Don Smith. Paul came to the Confederation Centre in 1969 to do children's theatre. "I got a taste of it and liked it," he recalls. He still likes it today, and continues to run the Centre's lighting since becoming head electrician in 1976.

The job is sometimes hectic, especially when preparing for the summer season, but once the shows are up and running things are more relaxed. Much of Paul's spare time is reserved for family since he has two young children.

One of the perks of the job is the chance to take in a lot of theatre: Paul sees almost every show from beginning to end. This year's Anne show, he says, was "the best in 20 years. The director [took] the time and [had] the knowledge to do this right."

This summer was also a personal milestone for Druet since he was assigned to actually design the lighting for one of the Centre's shows, Puttin' on the Ritz. Outside contractors are usually called in for that, and Paul describes this opportunity as the high point of his career.

Druet likes working with people and says half the enjoyment of his job comes from the lighting crew being able to do their jobs. "I've got a great support system," he says. Still, a great deal of satisfaction comes from the fulfilment of personal vision. "The best part is to envision something and see that picture materialize somewhere down the road. The event for me is to get it on stage, have the curtain open, and have it look right."

Unearthly Presence

Profile: Joscelynne Bordeaux

by Sean McQuaid

Joscelynne Bordeaux

If all the world's a stage, the world may very well be Joscelynne Bordeaux's oyster this year: the Island actress is appearing at the Victoria Playhouse in both The Odd Couple and Norm Foster's Melville Boys this summer, and her recent credits are a cross-section of PEI theatre- she understudied the role of Valency in Theatre P.E.I.'s most recent production of Hank Stinson's The Blue Castle, played the title role in The Affections of May, and portrayed the fiery queen Sonja in Horatio. In her alleged spare time, she is the Queen's County representative for the P.E.I. Songwriter's Association, does some theatrical workshopping, and has recently joined the Venerables acting troupe. "It's been a fantastic year for me," she says with disbelieving glee. "Probably the best year of my career."

While Joscelynne plays many parts, she does have her favourites- preferring "the fiery, strong-willed people, expressive roles." She has enjoyed all her recent work and attributes her satisfaction to good casting, though her own skills have been key in winning her admirers and steady work. She has been characterized as an actress of great presence, a description she acknowledges with sheepish delight: "I don't show it [to people] one-on-one. I come to life on the stage."

Neither presence nor persistence is the sole basis of Joscelynne's success: "Concentration is a big thing," she says, "and belief in whatever character you are. I think that's the bottom line. When you have that belief, everything else disappears. But you can't forget your audience. It's a fine balance- I think it comes with experience."

Joscelynne started acting as a child, doing skits with her sister and acting in high school, but was given her first big break (as an actor with the Children's Theatre) by Theatre PEI's Ron Irving, "the Godfather of Theatre in these parts." She has no specific role models as such, but cites Offstage theatre veterans like David Moses, Rob MacDonald and Ed Rashed as examples of the Island's teeming pool of theatrical talent. Citing PEI's diverse artistic community, she espouses the need for exposure to "all different types" of performing so as to find one's identity as an artist. "You have to fit in, but be unique-a paradox." She admits acting is a tough profession, but it makes her happy. "That's what success is," she asserts.

Much of this contentment comes from her feeling that she is "at the top" now, the point where she is no longer struggling or trying to prove herself as an actress. "When you've reached that point, everything is a positive challenge, not a threat." All she wants out of life now is more good roles, though she also dabbles in singing and musical theatre. "Now that I know where I am in acting, I'm trying to find my voice as a singer." Whatever her creative outlet, Joscelynne's ultimate goal is the same: "to work at something I really enjoy doing which allows me to communicate what's within me."

The Picture Painter

Profile: Mary Pratt

by Sean McQuaid

Mary Pratt

In person, Canadian painter Mary Pratt comes across as a whimsically wise artistic matriarch, her delight in both art and life undimmed by her extensive experiences with both. Best known as a sort of photo-realist, Pratt not only captures life but transforms it, seeing the wondrous, the absurd, and sometimes even the horrific within the mundane. Whatever her subject, she imbues the commonplace with uncommon significance.

Born to an upper-middle class Fredericton family, Mary defied class conventions by becoming an artist, likewise defying conventional artistic wisdom by seeking subject matter from her own environment (rather than in "cultural centres", despite a teacher's assertions that "there is nothing of life" in the Maritimes) and by declaring herself a member of the "Mummy Bunny School of Art" (as the aforementioned teacher referred to any art that doesn't require suffering).

Mary's subjects (particularly landscape) often overwhelmed her until she stumbled upon the medium that would change her life: photography. Her husband took a slide of a scene she wanted to paint while the light was right, and she was hooked by this capture of the moment in all its immediacy and detail, though part of her felt as if she were cheating. "I thought it was wicked," she admits. "I thought it was evil. I just loved doing it."

Pratt projects slides onto her painting surface as a sort of proportional map or guide, but the interpretation thereof is unquestionably her own: in her eyes, a bowl of gelatin-encased fruit seems "like something in a chemistry lab. . . . life floating in a bowl;" a trout in a ziploc bag undergoes a "total loss of dignity" to its absurd, soulless, modern packaging; a gutted moose carcass becomes "a political statement;" and a barbecue becomes "a deadly, vicious thing. . . .like a little crematorium. . . .where something dead would be."

Pratt's works include many nudes, and a handful of landscapes (such as the charmingly dream-like "Small Wharf on the Pond" on display at the Confederation Centre). She is currently experimenting with new techniques, especially works that incorporate mixed media (like chalk and pastels). After approximately fifty years of painting (she began at age ten), Pratt continues to learn and evolve.

Though many viewers (and Pratt herself) find a good deal of symbolism in her work, Pratt doesn't consider others' potential interpretations of her work while painting. Her work remains a very personal joy. As she says, "I want to keep the image for myself. Sometimes I think I want to be it."

Rembrandt is her favourite painter, but Pratt traces her beginnings as a child artist to her earliest influences, which were her parents (amateur painters), hollywood films and- of all things- comic books. She was particularly fond of gruesome villains, like those in the classic Dick Tracy strip- the "wonderful creatures" as she calls them. Fifty years later, Pratt continues to concoct her own wonderful creatures, with no end in sight. When asked what remaining goals she has for her work, she claims she just wants to "make it more and more right."

Mary Pratt recently gave a lecture at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum as the second installment in the gallery's Visiting Artists series, funded by the Canada Council.

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