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The Joy of Failure

Living with literary rejection

by Carol Little

The amount of rejection a writer receives is astronomical. We are bombarded with rejection. It’s like being in high school for the rest of your life. Any day of the week, you can walk to the post office and get a letter telling you that your work isn’t good enough. There are days where the grail of letters, the acceptance letter, arrives, but realistically, for every acceptance I receive, I get at least, really at least, twenty rejections for pieces that I’d submitted eagerly with bright eyes and big dreams.

The consistent rejection coupled with the fluctuating, unreliable salary would be enough to send the most confident individual into knee-hugging depressive fits. Now—try giving that job to the shyest person you know, the insecure, clinically introverted kid … it’s a bumpy ride. And, in essence, no matter what the letter says, it always reads to me like a really big, highlighted in gold, might as well be a Hallmark singing card, “F.U. kid, we think your poem sucks.”

 And, this is my day job!

I have a poet friend who for years would stick his rejection letters on his office walls. He has since switched (thank god!) to posting acceptance letters, and all four walls are covered with them—they actually overlap one another. So, when he sits at his desk, he is surrounded by praise—a very rare thing for a writer.

I’ve found that for me, the healthiest way to deal with rejection is to ignore it. Seriously. I read the letter (usually), shout a string of obscenities to the publisher (who obviously doesn’t know anything about anything), shake my fist at the sky a few times, rant to my friends about how that publication will likely go out of business anyway, then toss the letter over my shoulder and find another editor to flog the piece to. Healthy, no? Trust me, I have a degree in psychology, it’s a mentally sound way to deal with such issues in life.

How do I continue writing in the wake of this? Stubborn, unwavering, determined perseverance. Sure, I could pursue another career, say one that pays me, but I wouldn’t be happy, and really what’s the point of life if not to do what’s fulfilling. That may sound selfish, but my kids are clothed, fed (honest, they’ve eaten) and happy, and I believe that I set a good example for them by living an honest life in which I actively pursue and support the things that are important to me.

I keep the positive words I glean along the way. In Ontario last spring, after a solo poetry reading, a burly 6-foot-2 farmer, at his first poetry reading, marched up to the organizer, grasped the scruff of my friend’s shirt firmly in his hands, lifted him off the ground and proclaimed adamantly, “When that girl’s poetry book is published, I need a copy!”  I will hold on to that moment for life.

Spirit and Values

Lord, What Fools!

Review by Carol Little

Cast of Lord, What Fools!This year’s children’s Christmas play at the Confederation Centre of the Arts was John Bevan-Baker’s musical comedy Lord, What Fools! The performance, which featured thirty-one actors, many of them youth, ran for two nights, December 2 and 3.

Bevan-Baker wrote the play thirty years ago in Scotland, where it was originally performed as a school play, featuring nearly two hundred members of the small community. For the recent production, the play was adapted and modernized to include local references and humour, including a spy from Newfoundland and allusions to the new Charlottetown trolley bus.

The title Lord, What Fools! is taken from Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the nymph Puck, candidly observing muddled human courting behaviour, states “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”

The play is a retelling of the classic Christmas theme of a community that learns the true meaning of Christmas. It opens comically with Officer Sandy Banks singing about how it’s “painfully pleasant and peaceful here” and how he longs for a crime to bring some excitement to the “dreary, dull backwater town”.

The townsfolk are caught up in the materialism of the holiday when an alien (Strabon) from a distant planet lands in the mundane island town in search of creatures that look like him. He befriends six teenage girls and promises to take them for a ride around the galaxy in his SUV (solar universal venturer). When the girls’ parents learn of the alien, they forbid the girls to see him, assuming that Strabon means them harm. But the alien accidentally takes off with the girls hiding aboard his spaceship, or “fancy tractor” as one of the locals calls it, and their parents quickly learn that “Christmas isn’t Christmas” without family.

Through flamboyant song and dance, the story unfolds, proving that the alien is kind-hearted and teaching the elders in the community to reserve prejudiced judgement of others and instead embrace the adventurous spirit of the youth and the holiday cheer by opening their hearts and minds to peace and unity.

Played to a colourful painted backdrop, with energetic choreography and comedic songs, young and old audience members enjoyed the inclusive holiday performance that, while it was set around Christmas, focused more on values and the spirit of the season rather than singling out typically Christian-themed rituals and references.

The play was directed by Erskine Smith with musical director and conductor Peter Bevan-Baker (the author’s son) and featured Anders Balderston as Officer Sandy Banks, Gerald Lenton as Arthur, Sharon Eyster as Margaret, and siblings Brandon Banks as Strabon, Brittany Banks as Jessica, and Janelle Banks as a member of the chorus.

There’s nothing like a fiddle player and some step dancing to get an Island audience excited, and the closing number of the performance proved that with a shout of “Strike up the band, let’s ceilidh,” leading into a rousing step dancing routine that involved the entire cast.

The Big Kahuna

Randy Burrows will direct Edge Players at The Guild in January

by Carol Little

François Weber, Joey Weale and Kevin Docherty from The Big Kahuna.The Edge Players are known for tackling edgy, thought provoking material with strong characters, and their January production of The Big Kahuna will follow suit.

Director Randy Burrows says, “Parameters for shows we have chosen are: generally smaller casts, simple set, few set changes, strength in characters and relationships, and edge in subject matter. At the 1999 Toronto Film Festival, The Big Kahuna struck me right away; it met the criteria and had good core players. We were looking for something actors could sink their teeth into.”

Adding to the original flavour of an Edge Players production, Burrows states, “We’ve always done our shows in the round, for me, it gives the feeling of cinema. I like the added intimacy.” Actor François Weber says, “Randy blends his concepts of cinema to theatre. We try to get people who don’t normally watch theatre, with something unique, that you don’t normally see on the Island. We see a niche to be filled.”

The Big Kahuna (aka Hospitality Suite) by Roger Rueff was originally written as a play, but is best known for the film starring Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito in which three men who work for a company in the lubricant industry are at a weekend trade show with the specific intention of meeting and selling their product to one potential client (the Big Kahuna). In the film version, the three men, with very different backgrounds, spend the evening in their hotel room getting to know one another, talking religion and work, and hosting a low-class gathering with meagre finger foods in an attempt to land the big contract.

In order to create a unique environment for theatre patrons, the Edge Players are organizing a conference style atmosphere. “In the spirit of the show, we’re doing a trade show before hand. We’ll treat it like a sales convention instead of a theatre night,” says Burrows, “it’s an opportunity for small theatre groups to network together.” The trade show is free for all to attend and will include booths from local theatre and storytelling groups, including an Edge Players booth. Weber adds, “The audience will really be able to relate to what’s going on (in the play).” There will be additional trade show themed flourishes to round out the event, including ‘hello, my name is’ tags for audience members. “It will be a far different experience than what you’d expect (from theatre),” says Burrows.

Striving to stay true to the material, Weber states, “We’ve been in communication with Roger Rueff for about two years now. Roger was really impressed with how it went in the workshop version, and our professionalism towards it.”

In March 2005, the Edge Players performed a condensed one-act workshop version of the play at Victoria Playhouse for the PEI Theatre Festival and won two awards: Best Actor—François Weber, and Best Production.

The Big Kahuna, starring Joey Weale, Kevin Docherty and François Weber and directed by Randy Burrows, will be at the Arts Guild in Charlottetown January 19­21 at 8 pm.

Strike at Putney Church

ACT (a community theatre) production of Eliza Jane Wilson’s play

Review by Carol Little

Cast of Strike at Putney Church
.In celebration of the anniversary of Island author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthday, ACT (a community theatre) opened its 2005-2006 season at the Arts Guild in Charlottetown with The Strike at Putney Church, which ran for seven performances in November. The play, written by Charlottetown resident Eliza Jane Wilson, is based on the short story “The Strike at Putney” by L.M. Montgomery.

The play was directed by Paul Whelan, who was cast as the minister of Putney Church, Daniel Sinclair, in the first production of the play in 1989. Since then, the play has been staged at a number of different Maritime theatres and was featured on the Confederation Center Main Stage in the 1991 Charlottetown Festival.

The performance at the Arts Guild reflected a high calibre of production. The actors played off each other with expert timing and chemistry, seamlessly drawing the audience into the story with the comedic peculiarities of the characters.

The Strike at Putney Church is a comedy portraying small town island life in the 1920’s. The upright, moralistic community of Putney is scandalized when the elders deny a famous female missionary the opportunity to speak at the church, quoting the authoritarian biblical words of St. Paul, “Let your women keep silence in the churches for they are commanded to be under obedience” in their defense. The women, who have already arranged for the missionary’s visit, see no conflict with “a good Christian woman” who represents God in her work speaking from the pulpit at Putney Church. When the male elders maintain their firm opposition to the matter, the women retaliate by organizing a general strike, aimed to promote equality and demonstrate the importance of women in the church, by suspending all female participation and duties related to the church, including singing, organ playing, cleaning and the organizing of fund raisers.

Although the strike is initially seen as senseless female “troublemaking,” it doesn’t take the men long to feel the ill effects of a church void of female presence. The men’s stance is further weakened when it is revealed that the outspoken leader of the opposition Andrew McKittrick (Corin McFadden), has underhandedly convinced reluctant Miss Evelyn Kirby (Kim Johnston), who is the Secretary Treasurer of the Women’s Auxiliary, to secretly withdraw funds from the foreign auxiliary bank account to supplement the Church’s waning income in light of the women’s strike. Along with the unfolding of McKittrick’s shady personal history, the men soon rush to put things right.

In the end, an agreement is reached, a villain is found out, and honour, respectability and peace are restored to the town of Putney and its church. The men “learn to never take women for granted,” for as the young Minister (Adam Gauthier) says, “Women are Putney Church.”

Played to an intimate, packed house at the Arts Guild with simple, yet convincing and effective sets, complete with the author in attendance on November 18th, The Strike at Putney Church received warm applause and laughter throughout the evening.

Lysistrata at UPEI

Review by Carol Little

Cast of Lysistrata.The UPEI Theatre Society presented the classic Greek anti-war comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes on November 17th, 18th and 19th on campus at the Duffy Amphitheatre. The play was directed by Ashley Clark and produced by the coordinator of theatre studies at UPEI, Dr. Greg Doran.

Set in Athens, the play takes place amid war with the men fighting and the women alone in the city. The women do not agree with the war and are frustrated that their men are away from home fighting more often than not, while the women are left alone to raise the children. Equally frustrated that their intelligence, capability and opinions are not taken seriously by the men, the women band together to take a stand for their gender.

In order to force their husbands to stay home and end the war, the women of Athens, led by Lysistrata, vow to deny their husbands sex until peace is declared. Their goal, Lysistrata says is “to stop every living man from ever raising a spear against another and from ever lifting a shield or springing a dagger.” The women seize the Acropolis and barricade the gates to keep the men out.

The torrid comedy escalates as the men return home from the war and cannot stand the separation from their wives. The two sexes squabble and tease each other throughout the play, with the women always proving their superior strength in abstinence. In the end, the men, who are painfully engulfed with passion and desire for their spouses, promise to agree to anything if only their wives will return home and end their sexual suffering.

In the UPEI Theatre Society’s interpretation of Lysistrata, the director opted to adapt the play and to leave out certain elements in a stated attempt to modernize the presentation, hoping to avoid alienating the audience and to increase general accessibility. The performance was true to the racy comedy and tense sexual dynamic between the men and women, but left out many additional elements such as masks, chants and dances. I felt the play was lacking due to the absence of these rituals and would have been more complete and interesting had it been a true interpretation.

The performance featured twenty-two actors, including in the title roles: Diana Love as Lysistrata, Jennifer Tasker as Calonice, Tara Rumsey as Myrrhine, Rob Reddin as the Magistrate, Greg Chandler as Cinesias and Nick Kay as Manes.

It is generally agreed by scholars that Aristophanes lived around 400 B.C. and began playwriting at the age of eighteen.

Contact East 2005

Highlights from the conference held this October in Summerside

by Carol Little

Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada presented Amadeus at Contact East 2005.Contact East is a four-day festival of theatre, music and dance that takes place in a different maritime city every two years. Performers at the industry trade show have twenty minutes of stage time with which to catch the attention of delegates from around the world, in hopes of securing future bookings. Summerside was host to Contact East 2005 from October 16-19, attracting talented performers for over fifty diverse showcases.

While all the artists offered their best material, given the short amount of time allotted them, there were a few performances that stood out for me. The first of these was The Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada’s Amadeus, one of only three troupes given the opportunity to present a full-length production. Amadeus is a dramatic portrayal of Mozart’s turbulent creative life told through emotional dance, blending the music of Mozart and Salieri. The story masterfully highlights Mozart’s difficulty to connect with society despite his vast success as a composer. Amadeus features eight classically trained dancers from around the world, with artistic direction by Igor Dobrovski. Amadeus will be returning to PEI April 22, 2006 at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

Dan Rubin, Matt Anderson, Charlie A’Court and BradConrad at the Shipyard Market.Matt Andersen took the stage late in the evening on October 17th to an audience of delegates and fellow artists. A roots, rock, rhythm and blues singer and guitarist, Andersen had unwavering control over the audience with his maniacally precise guitar playing. Andersen will perform March 30th and April 1st at the Confederation Centre of the Arts with Charlie A’Court. Anderson and A’Court along with Dan Rubin (Atlantic Union) and Brad Conrad (who performed with Nathan Wiley) gave a brief glimpse of their combined talent in an after-hours jam at the Shipyard Market following Nathan Wiley, who performed his twenty-minute set to an energetic hometown audience.

The Polyjesters entertained on the final evening at the Jubilee Theatre and gave an extended impromptu performance after the closing ceremony at the Shipyard Market. The Alberta natives delivered an eclectic blend of expertly wielded instruments, original music, and powerful vocal stylings, including Jason Valleau’s near perfect Louis Armstrong pitch. Valleau described the quartet’s innovative, infectious blend of bass, baritone ukulele, fiddle and percussion as “swingin’ folk chunk.”

Twenty-year-old Halifax native Mitchell Hunter walked onto the stage with only a Roland keyboard and his drummer Steven Harris on guitar, but as soon as Hunter’s fingers graced the keyboard it was obvious that he would have no problem engaging the audience. Hunter’s powerful voice, original lyrics and inspired keys proved that the newcomer will have a lasting career.

Another memorable performance was by the Chad native multilingual group H’Sao, who gave a breathtaking, energetic performance, creating an eclectic sound combining funk, soul, gospel and harmony singing with rhythmic beats and dance.

Other performers included Madviolet, Timothy Chaisson, Shanneyganock, Isaac and Blewett with Hot Toddy, bilingual comedy stylings of Chuck & Albert, racy comedy of Sketch 22, and the full length play honouring Canadian military veterans, Two Minutes of Silence—A Pittance of Time by Terry Kelly.

Victoria’s Glass

Artisans use glass as their medium in new studio in Victoria

by Carol Little

Victoria’s Glass co-owner Sabine Neusch with son Benjamin in the shop.Victoria’s Glass Studio is only a couple of months old, but Sabine Neusch and Kate Poole have big plans for it. Located at 24 Bardin Street in the village of Victoria By The Sea, the new shop is the only store of its kind in Prince Edward Island. Unlike many of the shops in Victoria, the glass studio is open year round, partly due to the post office that is also located in the store.

The studio is a combination storefront selling mostly Island made arts, crafts and glass with workshop space in the back. Walking into the store, there is an immediate sense of creativity due to the eye-catching fish mosaic by Neusch’s daughter that is in progress on the front step. The store sells unique jewelry, glass beads, painted tiles, dishes, pottery, cards and both functional and artistic glass pieces.

An eclectic artist, Neusch studied jewelry making and art in Europe and has taken courses in photography. Neusch started out as a jeweler and then moved into woodworking before specializing in glass. Born in Switzerland, she said that when she moved to Prince Edward Island in the 1980’s that she instantly fell in “love with the island colours and lighting,” adding that “Victoria is beautiful, I hope they turn it into a historic village.”

Poole has been working with glass and sandblasting for twenty years. Neusch stated, “we are both craftspeople with very high standards of quality [who] read, learn and explore different things.”

When asked what draws her to glass as an artistic medium, Neusch responded without hesitation, “the colours and light” and quickly added, “it’s a whole different dimension than wood; glass has so many possibilities. Glass gives a very quick response to what you’ve been working on [compared to wood], and wood is not as forgiving.” She does not work exclusively with glass though, Neusch likes to combine materials, “to me, everything is a canvas or a way to be creative.”

Neusch said emphatically, “I believe everybody can be creative, that’s what it’s all about, getting people inspired and [seeing their] creations. I hope we fill a niche and help people to be creative.”

Victoria’s Glass Studio is offering classes in painting (with artist Karl MacKeeman), stained glass, sandblasting, fused glass and mirror mosaic this fall that can accommodate up to eight people per session and would like to offer courses such as drawing and photo sandblasting in the future. Neusch said that she “would like to open the studio once a week for people to come in and work on their own projects” with the tools and equipment available, and adds that “now that Holland College isn’t teaching glass, there is a need for it.” In addition, she has already had artists from Boston, Toronto and British Columbia contact her, offering to teach workshops above the beginner level in the future. Stating that there is room for expansion, Neusch and Poole’s ambitious plans include new kilns and the addition of a section devoted to selling glass and supplies to local artists.

Portable Smiles

Atlantic Smile Theatre brings professional theatre to senior residences

by Carol Little

Catherine O’Brien founded Atlantic Smile Theatre, a non-profit organization that brings professional theatre to senior residences, earlier this year in Charlottetown. The original Smile Theatre is an Ontario-based charitable company that has been running for thirty years. O’Brien said “I got my start with Smile as an actor, and I found it incredibly rewarding. I got the idea to bring Smile Theatre to Atlantic Canada, got approval from Tom Carson (general artistic manager of Smile Theatre) and asked Hank Stinson (PEI writer, actor) if he was interested. We’re hoping to eventually be an autonomous branch of Smile, and to bring it to the rest of Atlantic Canada.”

Atlantic Smile Theatre produces original Canadian musical theatre and hires professional actors, musicians, writers, directors and set designers. Rather than playing at a fixed venue, they perform wherever they are needed most, such as hospitals, nursing homes, senior residences and community centers. The goal is to bring skilled theatre directly to people who may not otherwise be able to enjoy it because of physical, financial or transportation related restrictions. O’Brien said, “the shows are very portable, we are able to adapt to any size environment. We basically come to their living room and put on a show for them.”

Speaking of the charitable aspect of the company, Stinson stated, “it is important that people can see the show regardless of their ability to pay.” O’Brien added that, “many Ontario (nursing) homes found the benefit (of the performances) was so great that they began to budget for it.”

Through The Gable Window is an original sixty-minute show based on the works of L.M. Montgomery, written by Stinson and choreographed by O’Brien that the two performed this year as part of the Charlottetown Festival. “I adapted three of L.M. Montgomery’s novels into musicals: The Blue Castle, Emily of New Moon, and Rainbow Valley. In the process of doing this it occurred to me that a good way of seeing Montgomery was through the characters in her stories, so I concocted a review where we talk about Montgomery, of her influences and adventures that happened to her or her family as told through her characters,” said Stinson. O’Brien added, “the goal is to get people excited about Montgomery and her books again.”

Stinson remarked “I think the show is a really good promotion for PEI.” O’Brien added, “the set design (involves) a stunning quilt of PEI scenery.” Also involved in the production are Dean Burry, (music), Donny Fraser (musical arrangements), and Garnet Gallant (set design), and the Charlottetown Festival generously loaned all costumes.

Smile Theatre relies heavily on corporate sponsorship and donations. Ongoing fundraising is essential to the survival of Atlantic Smile Theatre. In addition to fundraisers in the spring of this year, Stinson said, “Royalty Rotary very generously offered us our start up funds.”

This is Catherine O’Brien’s fourth season with the Charlottetown Festival, and Hank Stinson has been a part of the Festival “since about 1980.” O’Brien will be taking Through The Gable Window to Ontario for two months with Kevin Heatherington, former member of the Charlottetown Festival, replacing Stinson for those performances because of previous commitments. The show will then return to PEI where O’Brien and Stinson will perform at various venues from December 12­24.

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