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Kinda Kultural

Buzzin' Around

by Lindsay Kyte

This month about town I went kind of cultural. After a few months of covering alternative-music related events, I was ready to become "classical-adelic." But, I also went for some goofy laughs (more about that later).

I attended the Atlantic Debut recital at the Steel Building at UPEI on Saturday, March 17. The crowd was small-mostly music majors there because they had to attend for credit. It was, after all, St. Paddy's day and most student-age types had a green beer-foam moustache at this point in the night.

The recital was refreshing. Soprano Christina Tannous was accompanied by Michael McMahon on piano. They debuted a piece called "Marginal Way," which Tannous explained was reflective of the sea. When I closed my eyes, I could hear puddles of sound ebbing and flowing in varied tempos, while Tannous sang their stories.

Stephen Ham was next on piano. One piece he played was particularly quick and complex, and I watched his emotion build along with the audience's, until his last note, when he triumphantly threw back his seat and stood up as the note hung in the air. The audience, one used to quietly golf-clapping, emitted Letterman cheers as he bowed.

I also viewed the Great Garden of the Gulf Exhibit at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. One work that really interested me was "Watching Ryan" by Brian Swanson. It was a painting depicting a scene that could happen this summer. Three very ordinary looking people at the beach are watching someone out of the painting. The child looks cranky and a bit sunburnt. The woman probably got her sunglasses at Shoppers Drug Mart. The umbrella had a Canadian Airlines logo on it. But what occurred to me when looking at it was that so many artists feel that only the nostalgic has value. Hence why Norman Rockwell sells so well. What Swanson gives the audience by choosing a contemporary scene is the sense that what is happening now also has value. That we are living in tomorrow's yesterday. That someday we'll be scrutinized as we scrutinize history, and juice containers from the Dollarama will have kitsch value.

And, as a break from culture, I went to see 4Play improv at the Arts Guild Friday, March 16. Don't get me wrong though-improv is an art in itself, and a darn gutsy one. Ed Rashed, Carly Martin, Rob MacDonald and Matt Rainnie were the artists. The crowd was a large and eclectic one, and giggled throughout the various games 4Play used. A particular highlight was Matt Rainnie's Ed Rashed impression as "Short-Order Cook Man:" "Oh my Gaaahd! Well, anyways. . . ." 4Play doesn't run again until the summer, but I'd say they're well worth the $10 you'd pay instead for a movie, even if only to hear Ed Rashed switch accents mid-sketch and the others cut him up for doing so.

Island Premiere of Comedy

Toronto Adventures
by Lindsay Kyte

Lindsay KyteThe comedy Toronto Adventures makes its PEI premiere at the Victoria Playhouse July 18 to August 3. Toronto Adventures is written by Lindsay Kyte, based on her real life adventures as a Maritime actress battling the smog and subways of the Big Smoke.

What if you moved to a place where you no longer spoke the language, knew how to walk and couldn’t even order a coffee? What if suddenly pizza was complicated, smiling at others caused confusion and your next-door neighbours didn’t recognize you? What if all of a sudden, spending a Friday night with your grandmother, who once outdrank an entire soccer team, seemed like a really fond memory?

Toronto Adventures emerged from a series of weekly emails Kyte was writing back home detailing the culture shock she was experiencing in Toronto. Much to her surprise and delight, people, entertained by her saga, began to forward these emails on to others. They have now appeared in various publications including The Toronto Star, have been a topic on CBC radio, are now a weekly blog in The Cape Breton Post and have been turned into a five-minute comedic series on Canada’s first Internet channel ( Toronto Adventures’ stage premieres last summer at Festival Antigonish, the Membertou Trade & Convention Centre and the Atlantic Fringe Festival received wide press and great reviews.

Toronto Adventures is directed by artistic director Erskine Smith with scenic design by Scott MacConnell. Appearing in the production with Kyte is Sherilyn Brady, Stephen MacDougall and Josh Weale. Lighting is by David Nicholson.

Settled in the City

Toronto Calling

by Lindsay Kyte

In Toronto, some people are smiling. Some people are holding doors for each other. And some people describe winter streets as “slippy.” Some people in Toronto are Islanders and are making their way to the top, one open door at a time.

Renae Perry moved to Toronto in 2006 to study Special FX and Beauty make-up. “I’ve met lots of wonderful, creative, cool people. I love that on any night I can hear a great band or see amazing theatre or have food from almost any country in the world. Also, I can get anywhere in the city pretty easily.”

Peter Forbes moved to Toronto in 2001 to pursue a career as a musician: “I’ve seen a lot of good shows. I learned a lot about the way things operate (or don’t operate) with regards to the national music scene. And I’ve learned about touring, representation, retail structure and press.”

Erin Fagan moved to TO last year to be with her fiancé. “It was exciting for me to have a much bigger pool of work, a higher wage, more experience and more potential to go to school down the road. I was also intrigued by the sheer scale, activity and diversity of the city. I think it’s important for people to have a chance to live somewhere other than where they grew up for a period.”

Perry says Toronto has changed her in many ways: “I’m much more open to trying new things and I’ve lost my fear of saying, ‘No.’ It’s strange because I feel like I can be more outgoing here. I can be myself a little easier. On the other hand, I think mean things more often. If someone is talking loudly on the subway, I want to scream, ‘Shut the hell up! Nobody here cares that your boyfriend forgot to call you.’ So that side of myself I don’t like so much.”

Forbes says Toronto has opened his eyes in many ways: “I am more politically aware now than I was before I came here. And a little more open minded with regards to meeting different races, sexual orientations and political viewpoints.”

Toronto makes one tougher and more resilient, Fagan says. “But I am still me and I have a reputation at work of being notably nice and friendly and helpful. However, there are times when I feel I have become more hardened and less patient with delay or, wow, even just with people or systems. And I have become regrettably better at not seeing or noticing others. I don’t like that tunnel-vision.”

All agree that while Toronto causes them to grow in unimaginable ways, PEI will always be home. “I miss it so much it hurts sometimes,” says Perry. “PEI is like the most comfortable chair where I can curl up and feel safe. I miss fresh seafood and potatoes and my Mom’s cooking. I know I may find things different if I was there now, but right now that sounds great.”

“At first, I liked the anonymity of starting fresh, but I deeply miss running into people I know with any regularity,” says Fagan. “And I just miss the personalities and haunts, family and old friends, the beauty of the place and a quick commute to work and back. I remember how rough I used to find my whole twenty-minute drive to town from Stanhope. Now, I travel an hour each way.”

“PEI is home; I’ve just been visiting Toronto for six years,” says Forbes. “East Coast music venues treat their bands with respect and pay them much more. Toronto venues, with a few exceptions, are bullshit. There is a ton of local support for musicians in the East; not so much in Toronto.”

While these young Islanders strive to find their paths amidst subways and smog, they never forget where they came from. That is why in Toronto, sometimes you will still see some people smile.

This is the conclustion of a two-parter about young Islanders who have gone to Toronto to find whatever.

Coming Home

Toronto Calling

by Lindsay Kyte

Toronto can seem like a land of abundant opportunity for young Island artists. However, after moving to the Big Smoke with a fistful of dreams and finding themselves with empty pockets and broken hearts, some Islanders have realized there’s no place like home.

Savannah Belsher and Todd MacLean moved back to PEI three years ago. They say although Toronto had good points, the negative far outweighed the positive. “I was astounded by the feeling that I'm not that original at all,” says Belsher. “Being surrounded by so many people all of the time, you see so many similarities between yourself and everyone else that you lose your identity.”

“My first day in Toronto, I woke up, turned on the TV and saw the Twin Towers on fire,” says MacLean. “I wanted to drive home as fast as I could and hide out in the backwoods of PEI. Things got minimally better after this, but not really by a whole lot.”

Dennis Ellsworth recently moved back to focus on his musical projects: “Toronto started out good, but a series of bad luck incidents (laid off, broken ankle, band break ups, relationship destruction) saw me sliding down a hill that I am still slowly crawling my way back up. I wanted peace. I wanted a tighter-knit community of friendship. I felt my chances of raising a music profile were greater in a smaller city.”

Lisa Carmody moved back to mount a children’s theatre production last summer: “I missed the pace. I loved parts of Toronto, even the busy parts, but I’m the kind of person who needs ‘down time.’ You can be in a yoga class ‘ooming’ your head off and still feel the buzz of the city. After a few weeks back home, I realized everything I wanted to do, I could do on PEI.”

Belsher says she missed things that she took for granted: “Like easily being able to take a ten minute drive out into the middle of the country to relax in pure silence. Still being able to see the stars at night, even when you’re on your balcony in the centre of Charlottetown. Knowing the man who is dressed up as Santa in the Charlottetown Mall at Christmas time.”

Ellsworth says PEI was the right choice for him: “I moved home to gain focus with my music and I have done nothing but get that right since I did.”

Yet MacLean says with all its hardships, Toronto taught him some important lessons: “I would not have traded it for anything else. I needed it bad. I mean, c’mon. A mid-to upper-class white boy who grew up sheltered on a Meadow Bank farm and then went to UPEI without experiencing life anywhere else other than the Island? God. I needed it more than George W. Bush needs to be taught how to admit failure.”

However, not all have the same feelings about Toronto. “F**k you, Toronto,” says Ellsworth. “You still have a lot of my loved ones in your wicked possession. Don’t hurt them like you did to me. And if my plan goes accordingly, I will return one day to reclaim everything you took from me. Then I will ride out of town in one of those shitty movie sunsets.”

Some have not ruled out Toronto forever. “There’s truth in the old cliché, ‘The grass is always greener,’” Carmody says. “When I was in TO, I dreamed about being home. Now that I’m back here, I sometimes miss the hustle bustle of the Big Smoke. I feel like every time I run off somewhere, I turn around and my Self has followed me. And I’m like, ‘Oh. It’s you.’ You can be anywhere and decide to be content or discontent.”

All agree PEI fulfills like Toronto never did. “This place is a gift,” says MacLean. “It’s hard to see it when you’re immersed in it, but it’s especially hard to see it when you’ve never lived anywhere else. Only when you leave it do you know what you’ve left.”

This is the first of a two-parter about young Islanders who have gone to Toronto to find whatever. Next month: Islanders who are staying.

Here and There

Toronto Living

by Lindsay Kyte

Lisa, Josh and LindsayIn New Brunswick we stopped, stretched and tried to comprehend that we were crossing a bridge not only back to an island that sometimes makes us sigh with longing but also back to a time when anything was possible.

Lisa Carmody, Josh Weale and I drank Starbucks as we drove out of Toronto, now home to our coffee cup collections, bound for PEI’s beaches and breathtaking scenery. Don’t get thrown off by the Starbucks, however. We always drink it with a Tim Hortons’ heart.

PEI captured my heart back as a UPEI student. Upon starting my career as a writer and an actor, I discovered an amazing thing about the PEI arts scene: here, anything is possible. Want to put on a play? Here’s a space and a cast. Written something you'd like to share? We want to hear it. Act on our stages. Share your song and we’ll tap our feet along. Life was heady with the scent of possibility and I was living and breathing creativity as a budding artist.

A grant to study film acting brought me to the Big Smoke in 2004. Here, I was shocked at how Torontonians run like Teletubbies are chasing them to catch departing subways. Shocked at how pedestrians can knock you down and not even acknowledge the human contact. Shocked at how this city can drain your resources and your creativity, as sometimes you’re judged not on talent but how much money you’ve put into body parts that don’t move when you jog.

However, I was pleased to discover that big scary Toronto is actually made up of little communities, each with their own distinct cultures and customs. And Lisa, Josh and I are part of a unique group of actors, writers, musicians, make-up artists, etc. who all have TTC Metropasses and yet also know each others’ father’s names. In Toronto, we young Maritime artists stick together. If one of us is acting on a stage, you can bet the first three rows are filled with people who know back roads where blueberries grow. If one of us is singing songs on little café stools, the rest of us are sipping wine and cheering. Instead of experiencing big city loneliness, we’ve all bonded together to form our own community of like-minded, creative people. And we still say hello to strangers on the sidewalk.

But there is no place like home. Coming back to PEI, we felt amazingly replenished with just a glimpse of red soil and green fields. PEI says to its own, “Welcome back!” while Toronto asks its dwellers, “And what else have you got for me?”

As we met familiar faces and saw new works showcasing incredible talent, I was not the only of our trio to feel a pang of longing. Getting back in that car was going to be hard at the end of this week.

In the faces of those who get to tread on red soil everyday, I met myself a few years younger. The eternal optimist. The artist brimming with ideas. I remembered back to when anything was possible, when I lived in PEI. And all of a sudden, I straightened my shoulders.

In Toronto, you quickly learn that here you will either sink or swim. Guess what, Toronto? We’re Maritimers. We grew up by the ocean. We’re swimming.

After one last shwarma at Cedars and a quick dip to say goodbye to the jellyfish, Lisa, Josh and I left with our noses pressed against the window to glimpse every last dot of PEI’s festive red and green. And then we settled back in our seats. Lisa was writing a song out loud. Josh was scribbling a new sketch. I was working on a script with new fervor and inspiration. We’re not ready to give up the fight in Toronto just yet. We’ve got a lot more conquering to do. And luckily for us, back in the city waits groups of talented young Maritimers doing just that. We went back to Toronto absolutely sure of one thing—as we make our way amidst the smog and the subways, it is the people back home that serve as our inspiration and have helped us stand when others feel the need to run. Toronto may be our office, but the Maritimes, it will always be our home.

I Did It

Reports from the “I Can Do It Conference”

by Lindsay Kyte

The “I Can Do It” conference held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre April 21­23 was set to inspire, help you believe in yourself and other slogans you find on refrigerator magnets at the Dollarama. It featured such self-help heavyweights as Dr. Wayne Dyer, psychic Sylvia Brown and Dr. Masaru Emoto (the guy who pastes words on jars of water to see if emotions effect water crystals), among others. You could also browse booths scattered about offering the chance to “photograph your aura” (looked more like when you accidentally take a picture in the mirror) or attend “transformational art college.” I wondered if you could learn to transform people into zoo animals by signing up.

The first session featured Dr. Wayne Dyer in all of his “give yourself a spiritual pizza” glory. Attendees were not the anticipated “amulet-and-scarf” set, but more of a “laptop-and-latte” female crowd. And some men. Very few men.

The black swaddled stage had a gazillion coloured lights and a table with a big arrangement of flowers on it. “Oh please let him leap out like the Tom Cruise motivational speaker from Magnolia,” I prayed to whatever gods attend these conferences. Alas, there were no dimples and pyrotechnics. Dr. Dyer looked more like one of my Dad’s golf buddies when he wandered onstage after a gushing intro. Actually, Dad’s golf buddies might be livelier after beer and golf carts all day.

Dr. Wayne spoke slowly and started by telling stories about his friend, Ram Dass. Forty-five minutes later, he was still telling stories about his friend, Ram Dass and how they swim together. By then, I had noticed that he makes sounds like he’s chewing a mushy banana and that the lady next to me was composing her “To Do” list in the free sparkly conference journal. I was not inspired, I had no insight into my soul and I started to doubt the wisdom of refrigerator magnets.

Things changed when he told the story of Immaculée Ilibagiza, who survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda by hiding in a bathroom with seven other women for 91 days. When she walked onstage, there was a sense of being in the presence of someone incredible. As she spoke, without slogans, about forgiving the people who hurt you, she who had lost all of her family and everything she owned, we all stood and applauded. And after that, Dr. Wayne was on fire. He talked yoga, opening a door inward into your soul, how you attract events to teach yourself and even told a few funny stories, one involving a condom. Slow start, incredible middle and winding it all up with a condom. That was Dr. Wayne Dyer.

Robin Sharma, author of the book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, is a Cape Bretoner who looks remarkably like a white Montel Williams. During his talk, I made my first hug buddy (a lovely lady named Carmen) during a mandatory hug break. There were also massage breaks and dance breaks. Bust a move for your authentic self.

I also had to say the pledge, “I, Lindsay Kyte, will take Absolute Personal Responsibility for my choices” or “APR” as it’s known in the self-help world. I felt like a fraud, as sometimes I choose to do really dumb things, like the time I thought it was a good idea to boil milk in the kettle. I prefer to blame that one on my pizza-ordering mother.

Other than that, the lecture was pretty standard. He made reference to the expected worldly philanthropists: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Princess Di. And, of course, quoted Oprah, causing several of her disciples to nod their heads and give a quick, “Amen!!”

His philosophies were simple, like a check-up for your chicken-poxed soul. Be nice to people. Create a space for your creativity and brilliance to shine. All around me, I saw shiny happy people writing that one down. It was the grown-ups’ version of Sesame Street. I emerged from the conference happy, well-hugged and with a pamphlet for transformational art college. I always wanted to be a giraffe.

Leading with Both Feet

Mike Ross earns a place in the Soulpepper Theatre Academy

by Lindsay Kyte

Mike RossMike Ross sipped his Starbucks coffee like a real Torontonian. He was fooling everyone but himself. A look of worry suddenly crossed his face. “Oh God. I hope I don’t melt from the humidity here this summer,” he exclaimed, with a characteristic messing of his hair.

Ross, former Jive Kings’ front man and Charlottetown Festival regular, will not be returning to the Island’s ocean breezes this summer. He’s been chosen as one of 10 members of Toronto’s prestigious Soulpepper Theatre Academy, a pilot program designed to rival the National Theatre School and the Stratford Conservatory.

“I’ve been known as the ‘musician who acts’ or the ‘actor who plays music’ for a while now. And it’s been great. But I’ve been looking for an opportunity to further my acting skills so I can stand on my own two feet in either genre,” says Ross. “This program is the perfect place for it. I feel like I’ve been lacking in some aspects of acting technique and when it comes to certain playwrights, eras or styles, there are definite things you have to know.”

The Soulpepper Academy is a two-year intensive program for actors already in the business who want to enhance their skills. Competition was stiff, with hundreds of actors who’ve shone under the lights of Stratford, Shaw and beyond vying for a spot in this inaugural year. Ross was at home in PEI for the holidays when he got the news.

“I was unbelievably excited,” he recounts. “When all is said and done, I’ll be very proud to say I was part of the first Soulpepper Academy. And I’m also proud to say I’m representing PEI there. I like it when people’s eyebrows go up when I tell them where I’m from.”

However, entering a two-year intensive means a lot of change for Ross and his fiancée, Nicole Bellamy, who had enjoyed their summers working in PEI and working all over Canada for the rest of the year. “It’s very different, knowing exactly where I’ll be for two years. I’ll be in the company of some truly great artists and part of a really exciting project. But I’ll really miss being home this summer. I’ve learned so much from the Charlottetown Festival and met some truly great people. I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to have performed with them.”

After the Academy’s two years, Ross is undecided about where he will go next. “I haven’t had a plan yet for life and I’ve done okay. I prefer to have a series of possibilities in mind and wherever I’m pushed, I’ll go. Part of me would like to take what I learn at Soulpepper and open a theatre company in PEI. And another part of me would like to stay in Toronto and work on important projects either as an actor or a musician.”

Ross says where he comes from and what he’s learned from his experiences in PEI are a huge part of the reason he got that phone call last December. “I’ve gained essential skills from everything from dinner theatre to the Jive Kings to the Festival to UPEI. It’s one of those things where you don’t realize what you’ve been training for until the opportunity presents itself. Then it all makes sense.”

Not Far From Home

Martha MacIsaac performs with Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto

by Lindsay Kyte

Martha MacIsaac as Emily, Jeff Lillico as George in the Soulpepper Theatre production of Our Town.Martha MacIsaac just can’t seem to get away from “Emilys.” Now 21 years old and no longer living in New Moon’s backdrop of Prince Edward Island, MacIsaac has this year taken the leap from screen to stage. She is currently playing “Emily” in Soulpepper Theatre’s production of Our Town in Toronto, and says growing up in PEI helped her understand her character’s views on life.

“I think it’s important that I did understand life in a small town because it’s what this play is based around,” MacIsaac says. “Having grown up in a small town, I understand a lot more of the mentality of it all. One of the lines in the show is, ‘Why go traipsing around Europe? You might become discontent with Grover’s Corners.’ I think a lot of people in small towns feel this way. Why bother leaving when you have everything you need here?”

MacIsaac herself left PEI three and a half years ago for Toronto’s subways and Starbucks. After landing a role in last summer’s Soulpepper production of The Wild Duck, MacIsaac says she was thrilled to be cast in Our Town this year, as well as in the concurrent production of The Government Inspector. “I really only move a vase around in that show, but it’s fun,” she laughs.

MacIsaac says that though she finds theatre to be much more difficult than film, her cast mates and experiences at Soulpepper are a great way to get her feet wet. “The people I’ve come in contact with have been amazing. They’ve taught me so much. They’re experienced veterans. I’m so new to theatre and every time I go to work I get to learn from the best actors in the country.”

Besides having to tell an entire story at once as compared to the disjointed storytelling process of camera acting, MacIsaac says acting live on stage has challenges she hadn’t anticipated. “Last summer, someone tried to talk to us in the middle of the show. He started yelling, ‘You’re terrible! You’re a terrible man!’ at my character’s father. I’m not sure if some people think we’re a movie or what. I was just like, ‘Okay, guess we’ll just keep on going then.’”

Though Toronto’s stages have lured her away for now, MacIsaac says PEI is always in her heart. “I go back a lot. I’ve been very fortunate. All my family is back there and my best friends. I miss the sense of community back there. How you can walk down the street and people say hello, even if they don’t know you. Here it’s like everyone’s in their own little world—they go to Starbucks and go to work and never really open the doors for anyone else. And I miss the beaches back home. I’m afraid if I put my foot in the water at a beach here, I’d grow a third leg.”

Besides her Soulpepper productions, MacIsaac is also doing voiceover work for cartoon series Digata Defenders and filming a pilot for a new television series called PGTV. Our Town and The Government Inspector run until March 25 and 23, respectively.

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