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Art for Stars for Life

David Garcia Jimenez donates painting for Christmas card Island artist David Garcia Jimenez has don [ ... ]

Leadership Training

Holland College is offering a leadership training program for board members and staff of not-for-pro [ ... ]

Servant of Song

Profile: Jon Rehder

by Jane Ledwell

Jon Rehder (photo: Buzz)Jon Rehder describes himself as a “jack-of-all-trades” musician, known on the scene for playing bass, guitar, piano, or singing as a sideman with all kinds of PEI musicians, and doing sound for live events – but a change is coming. After 45 years as a freelance player, “never knowing two months ahead how I will pay my bills,” Jon will soon be eligible for his pension that will cover a portion of his income. “I can retire. I can do the gigs that I really like,” he smiles.

Fortunately for musicians he supports, Jon says, “What I love about music, is it takes us away from everything else. And what I love is doing that with other musicians.” However, he adds, “One of the transitions I’m trying to make is to be recognized as a singer-songwriter of my own music.

“I’m used to being a sideman, reacting to the situation,” he says. The new challenge for Jon is that, “A solo artist has to create the situation.”

Jon says, “The fundamental challenge in PEI is the ratio of musicians to population base is very high.” Singer-songwriters, he says, face the problem that “only a small percentage of the population wants to sit still and not talk and listen to music.

“I see the same fifty people all the time,” he laughs, for events such as the series he hosts, Wednesday nights at the Haviland Club with Jon Rehder and Friends. The “friends” are any of a number of well-established and emerging musicians in PEI, “most of whom I know but have never played music with,” Jon enthuses. “It’s a chance (for the guest musicians) to play things they might not always play. It’s a fun, good atmosphere.” Making music with them, he says, “is like a vacation.”

The Haviland Club, he says, offers a “pleasant-sounding room.” A pet peeve in Charlottetown is that “the vast majority of rooms that have live music and that depend upon music for revenue are sonically terrible. Many rooms don’t spend the time and money that would be appropriate to have good sound design.” The loud echoing of voices in conversation that drives musicians to turn up the volume to compete can easily be fixed with attention to sound design, Jon insists.

Jon reflects, “All my great experiences as an audience member involved feeling I was in good hands – (thinking) here’s a performer who really knows what they’re doing and will take me somewhere.”

Honoured last year as the Doug Riley Musician at the PEI Jazz and Blues Festival, Jon says, “It was very nice to get the nomination, because I’m not mainly a jazz player.” “Before coming to PEI, in Montreal, bass was what I played most. Since coming to PEI, I’ve played more guitar and piano and been pushed to do solo stuff. I really know music well, I have a reasonable level of competence on instruments, but on none would I call myself a jazz player.”

While he loves many forms of music, his philosophy is always that the music and the musician must “serve the song.” He recalls, “When I was playing jazz in Montreal, there came a point I realized I like songs better than instrumental,” Jon says.

As an art form, jazz requires intensive technical mastery. Jon reflects, “The technique has to serve the heart. It’s hard to make it through the learning curve (of mastering technique) and still have heart to give.”

Jon says, “There a time and place in the natural flow of things, a moment when the drive of the music overwhelms the integrity of the song – and I lose interest. I can’t play for the sake of expressing myself if I don’t think the context is telling a story.”

In 2009 with his band, Rhythm Rules, Jon released a CD called “To Serve the Song” to capture a bit of their philosophy. “My band is really everybody’s band, but I’m proud to take credit for putting them together for the first time,” he smiles, with a nod to bandmates Reg Ballagh, Remi Arsenault, Chris Gauthier. “We spent four days recording songs and came up with this record, We never followed up on it or did anything with it. I had never been involved with a recording before.”

As he considers recording his own songs, Jon notes the pro side of recording: “If you have something beautiful, it’s archived.” But, to him, “Recording is a minefield. It’s subject to pitfalls, traps, and fatal seductions. Recording, you get to that place that’s so relentlessly technical, you have the illusion that you can get everything right...”

Jon says, “The quality of performance, in my belief system, is connected to joy. It’s not trite or surface happiness. You can have joy playing a sad song.

He continues, “My explanation of the experience of music is there’s a sense of timelessness, of taking you out of time.” When everything works, “There is a moment in the music that the tempo hasn’t changed – but you have all the time in the world. You realize you’re all connected, and you know you can do anything you want. As a musician, it’s about staying in there, in the moment, and not getting attached.”

If you’re listening: “You don’t have to know music to experience it.” All you have to do is to serve the song with your presence and be served a helping of joy.

Real stories

Profile: Jenna MacMillan

by Jane Ledwell

Jenna MacMillan (photo: Buzz)"I want my work to be a love letter to the East Coast, the people who live here,” says filmmaker Jenna MacMillan. She’s hoping that she won’t have to write that letter from Toronto, where she works six months a year.

Increasingly accomplished and recognized as a documentary filmmaker, Jenna’s heart is also divided between telling true stories and fictional ones. She’s currently working on a documentary for Health PEI about methadone use for pregnant women, telling a kind of mental health story she cares about deeply: “It’s a documentary that tells the stories of the underdog, people we need to hear, people who don’t have a voice.”

Jenna says both her parents are social workers: “I knew I’d either be a social worker or psychologist—or a filmmaker.

“Stories help,” she says. “You can touch people, and change lives.”

Fictional stories take longer to tell in film, Jenna explains, because of the challenges of financing, not to mention production and distribution. Several short fiction films Jenna has worked on are “living lives of their own”—including Desperately Seeking Signal, “an experiment, shot for a day with zero dollars,” recently selected for the 21 Islands Film Festival in New York, and Not My Brother, “the story of a family torn apart because of undiagnosed mental illness” with screenings and awards regionally and in Montreal and Australia.

A project in development would blend drama and documentary, based on songs from musician Kinley Dowling’s album Letters Never Sent. “There’s been so much feedback from women from Kinley’s song ‘Microphone,’” Jenna says, of a song about sexual assault. “We’re hoping to make a series of documentaries—that would coincide with music videos—about women talking about something they are battling, not necessarily sexual assault or sexual abuse but something in their career, or misogyny…using direct-to-camera telling.”

Before dividing her heart between fiction and documentary, Jenna’s heart was first divided between acting and filmmaking. “I applied to the National Theatre School and was wait-listed, but I went to Montreal anyway and started to study psychology. But I signed up for a film studies class, and that was the only class I ended up going to. My whole (early) life, I was going to be an actor. This split me apart!”

Jenna was encouraged by the emerging PEI film sector of the early 2000s. “I was an actor, but because of filmmakers on PEI, I went off full of piss and vinegar to learn to tell our own stories, to come back and be part of it. And I came back, and it had ended,” she says, due to the cancellation of a provincial media incentive in 2009.

She still looked for a way home. “I was in the Toronto film industry… I was working on a show that wasn’t challenging me,” Jenna recalls. “The content wasn’t something I wanted to put out into the universe. I was approached about Coastal Stories—did I want to be involved in 10 documentaries for a low budget?” Her answer was an enthusiastic yes.

“I left to come back to PEI and started a company, and my colleagues thought that was a crazy thing to do,” she recalls. “In Toronto, the cost of living is so high and filming is so expensive… On that trajectory, it was going to be so long before I could tell my own stories.”

With urgency, Jenna says, “My stories need to be told now.”

The challenge on PEI, she says, is “to get beyond telling stories for free. You hit the ceiling. I split my time, six months in Charlottetown and six months in Toronto, keeping my community active in both places.”

It sounds exhausting, but of those who stay on the Island year-round, Jenna says, “You have to do it all yourself and for free, and that’s hard.” Jenna is part of the media community urgently lobbying for a sustainable provincial media incentive fund.

Dividing her heart and art between Toronto and PEI, between documentary and fiction, between her stories and others’ stories, is a fine balance for Jenna MacMillan. “I want to tell real stories,” Jenna says. “I’m really curious how I can forge my own path.”

Singing together

Profile: Margot Rejskind

by Jane Ledwell

Margot Rejskind (photo: Buzz)There’s lots to be said for waving your arms and having things happen,” says choral conductor Margot Rejskind. “It’s like magic.

“And,” she adds with a gleam in her eye, “the being in charge thing is fun.” The magic is “to take ten regular or mediocre voices and, relatively shortly, bring it into something extraordinary.”

With multiple degrees in choral conducting, Margot leads the venerable Summerside Community Choir. As a “birthday present for her husband,” she recently began Forte Men’s Choir, which began small enough that the men referred to jokingly it as a “covert operation.” She has also been engaged as founding conductor of the new Tapestries Community Choir, housed at the Baha’i Centre, a “pan-religious” choir “to speak to all the communities on the Island.”

Margot is passionate about the transformative effects of singing together. “Singing is a direct way of speaking to one another,” she says. “It’s such a fundamental human activity. We sing when we’re happy. We sing when we mourn. We sing when we protest, when we celebrate, when we put our children to sleep. We get to embody it—quite literally—and anyone can do it.”

Singing in choirs comes from “a thirst for unity and for community,” she says. “Since we started, it has been feeling more and more appropriate to make beautiful art together as a group.” To Margot, it also needs to be fun. “I like rehearsals to be fun—it’s what I do for a living, so we might as well laugh!”

Margot measures her time in Christmas seasons, the greatest season of singing together in our culture, and this Christmas will be her fourth on PEI.

A few years past, Margot and her family were living in Toronto, where she was on faculty at the Royal Conservatory of Music. “My family had a couple of rough years,” she says. “We were considering what we were doing and why—and we decided we didn’t want to live that way. We wanted to live in a community where we could be more in touch with the community around us, and where we could be home for supper.” Margot’s mother moved to PEI with the family.

Margot has not been disappointed with her move, and in addition to working with choirs, she teaches musicians at UPEI and trains singers in her private studio. “I’m part of building the future Island music community,” she says with great happiness.

“There’s a real musicality on the Island that boggles the mind,” she says. And Islanders, she adds with a smile, “love to find beautiful things and show them off—so there’s a real openness to choirs.”

She says, “I love doing things with really accomplished singers—but there is real power in community singing that I wouldn’t want to give up.”

In the wake of the U.S. election, Margot reminded me, “Raising your voice with other people gives you belonging through building community. You can see that throughout human history.

“We are cutting off their voices when we tell people to leave singing to people who are better at it than others. Singing is a basic human need.” And if choral singing is not for you, she says, “It’s never a loss to be exposed to music, because you can go out and appreciate it. We need audiences, too. We always enjoy our rehearsals, but we love to share music with people too, to make them feel what a composer wanted them to feel—maybe 500 or 600 years ago. That’s an extraordinary bond with someone across time.”

Margot is passionate about the power of music. “Singing together changes your spirit. It changes who we are as people and as a community. What do have if we don’t have each other?” To Margot Rejskind, singing is a way of moving past fear of otherness, and singing together is a form of organizing. “We need to start singing. They can’t tear gas you when you are singing. We own a community through common songs. It’s a big part of keeping people buoyant.

Concerted efforts

Profile: Morgan Saulnier

by Jane Ledwell

Morgan Saulnier (photo: Buzz)"I’m not sure I considered anything else, ever,” Morgan Saulnier says when asked when she first considered a career as a musician. “There was never anything else, to be honest,” the pianist and principal flutist of the PEI Symphony responds earnestly.

Eight years ago, as she was completing graduate studies in music, she had to decide whether or not to continue. “That would probably mean a doctorate and then a move to where the job was—or do I move to PEI, get married, build a career, and have a family?”

The decision was easy in the end. She married Paper Lion David Cyrus MacDonald and moved “home” to PEI. After a period of waitressing in which she admits, “I kinda went crazy with private teaching,” she was able to gradually “wind down” much of the private teaching and take on roles as varied as teaching flute at UPEI, serving as rehearsal pianist at the School of Performing Arts, being librarian and personnel manager for the PEI Symphony, and starting a local-products artisan shop, Green Eye Designs, which also sells her hand-crafted line of scarves.

All summer, Morgan played keyboards for the Charlottetown Festival production of Mamma Mia, before taking over as music director and pianist for Anne and Gilbert for its autumn dates, six shows a week. Not to mention parenting a toddler with a new baby on the way…

There have been happy surprises on Morgan’s musical path. She knew in high school that she loved playing for theatre, but she says, “I didn’t grow up thinking I would work in theatre. Rehearsal pianist work is not something I pictured happening. I don’t think I knew that could be a career.”

She enthuses, “I love my collaborative piano work. Playing for theatre is so very rewarding.

“I always pictured myself as a soloist,” Morgan recalls. Graduate school was “so solo and recital focused… The first time I played in an actual orchestra was graduate schools. I didn’t expect to feel so fulfilled!”

She says, “Ensemble playing is very special. In the Symphony, there are only two flutes, and I’m principal flute, and we have to work together and stand our ground—then there’s little close-knit group of woodwinds, and you have to be so in sync with the smaller group—then you’re part of something—and you realize, wow, I’m totally part of this bigger thing.”

When she was growing up with musically enthusiastic parents, Morgan says, “There was a really big range of music in the house, but classical was never part of it.”

I ask, is it important for children to listen to classical music? Morgan considers this: “I think live classical music is really important. It’s a great way to introduce it to young people, to get it in front of them. It gives them a visual, and there’s so much expression in playing. At a Symphony concert, they see that many players on the stage and everyone is having their own individual and collaborative musical experience.”

“We’re so lucky in PEI to have an orchestra. It’s such a tiny little place,” Morgan says. “We need celebratory, artistic music-making. As a community, we have to have it.” She is particularly excited for the November program, which includes a favourite symphony by Shostakovich.

However, Morgan says, “To be honest, I’m excited for a little bit of time.” After the close of Anne and Gilbert and the end of the first symphony weekend in October, a brief break comes. “I’m looking forward to time with my daughter—life with a toddler is crazy! Piano is definitely the instrument I play most—so I’m looking forward to getting back into really serious flute practice. I want some time to devote to my Victoria Row shop—I’m very proud of it and what it does for Island artists—and to sewing. I really find peace in the sewing. It’s very therapeutic. It’s an artistic output even though it’s the same movement again and again.”

Morgan says, “As chaotic as that makes your life, it’s a wonderful way to live your life.” Then, in January, a new baby and, undoubtedly, new musical arrangements in Morgan Saulnier’s artistic life.

Lighthouse keeper

Profile: Cheryl Wagner

by Jane Ledwell

Cheryl Wagner (photo: Buzz)Oh my heart—“ begins Cheryl Wagner, with a flourish of her hands, “I was in a movie theatre waiting for a film to start, and I reached for a seatbelt.” She mimes the gesture for belting up and then for embarrassed confusion. “In a way,” she says, “we need psychological seatbelts to watch a film. You invite into your brain forever images that are possibly indelible!”

As the organizer of the Charlottetown Film Festival, Cheryl Wagner is dealing in indelible images. She says. “All cultures tell stories—I’m doing my little bit of the big dream to tell our stories to the world.”

The Festival, which Cheryl calls the “Little Festival of Big Dreams,” highlights “the gumption, tenacity, and commitment of filmmakers.” Cheryl says, “I’m very excited about the activity, against all odds, of our film storytellers, of their persistence. My little motto is ‘Moving Pictures Forward.’”

I joke that Cheryl speaks in big-screen titles. “I’m willing to say one of my strengths is word play—I should have worked in advertising,” she laughs. “I like playing with words. And puppets. And children. And dogs.”

Known internationally as a producer of television for children, creator of the Big Comfy Couch, Cheryl sums up her accomplishments in soundbites. “My career all started here in PEI in the 1970s, when Pierre Trudeau offered Local Improvement Project grants, and we talked them into a grant for a touring puppet show. We didn’t know what we were doing, but it turned out we had talent. It led to working with Jim Henson and the Muppets in Toronto and then to my own clown/puppet work.”

She says, “I always say my memoir would be called The Further Adventures of a Coward… I never intended to be a producer—I had an idea that became Big Comfy Couch, and surprisingly it got full financing…

“What I learned (as a producer) is it’s like you’re a lighthouse, turning 360 degrees, looking for problems you can shine your light on it. You’re looking for disasters in all directions,” she says. “It’s like being a mother. Every mother can be a producer!”

And, Cheryl, as a mother, says, “My kids pulled me back to PEI to live in Charlottetown.” One of her children, Harmony Wagner, is a filmmaker, too, and her feature Singing to Myself will be part of the festival.

“It’s so remarkable,” she says, “and I’m not saying this because I’m her mother.” The film was made as part of what Cheryl lovingly calls a “ridiculous challenge” for women to make feature films for just $1,000.

“I was involved, I was watching how hard it was. I took a call for Harmony during shooting and said she was out shooting on location, and the caller said, ‘Location? With $1,000, everyone else has an agoraphobic in an apartment.’

“She had $1,000 to make a film—but it’s a million dollar film. That’s its value. But you can’t sustain that…” It’s perhaps a microcosm of filmmaking on PEI today.

“What this community has pulled off is humbling,” Cheryl says. “The next generation is not just coming—they’re here.”

At this stage in her life and career, Cheryl says, “I’m not making films—I’m trying to make a film festival.” The Charlottetown Film Festival will show over 40 films from Atlantic Canada (and a partnership with Ireland), including “some feature films and a wild array of eclectic shorts.” Sponsored by the Charlottetown Film Society, the festival all takes place in City Cinema, “our little treasure box.”

Organizing the Charlottetown Film Festival, Cheryl says, “I’ve shone the light on our community. What is true about PEI is that culture pulls people here and keeps people here. It is a valuable, valuable asset.

“PEI is the only province without a media fund, and I hope that will change. We want to keep young people here and have families—not just retirees…

“We need to see ourselves mirrored back to ourselves, for a sense of pride and recognition…one film and one film festival at a time.”

In good form

Profile: Sandy Kowalik

by Jane Ledwell

Sandi Kowalik (photo: Buzz)Every morning, artist Sandy Kowalik wakes up to read a quotation from Jeanette Winterson painted on her bedroom wall: “Whatever it is that pulls the pin, that hurls you past the boundaries of your own life into a brief and total beauty, even for a moment, it is enough.”

Sandy says, “I have always had a more diffuse focus than a burning focus on what I do. I like to move into different circles and see what’s going on. I’ve always been following different paths.” The Ontario College of Art and Design–trained sculptor and painter and longtime feminist social activist is in her sixth season managing the Island Art Gallery at The Dunes in Brackley.

It’s a path she loves. “I love to support working artists and give them a venue,” she says. “Mostly what I want to show is what I think are really good paintings and sculpture and artwork.” To Sandy, creating a “real Island gallery” is not about “the need to represent a cliché of what PEI is,” but rather a chance to do “whatever we can do to help people continue” living as artists on the Island. The gallery represents more than 50 artists in a variety of mediums, and Sandy says, “I see more fullness of what’s going on here, the variety of styles and approaches.”

She reflects, “A lot of people don’t want to see themselves in relation to what’s going on. For artists not to look and see what’s going on (in art)—they’re just making their job a little harder.” Hanging and rehanging new artworks every day in new relationships so they each “sizzle a bit more,” Sandy says, “It’s more than just a solo—you’re playing in a band.”

Sandy says admiringly, “The Dunes is a stopping place for so many visitors. They’re amazed by the size, the objects that are there, the gardens, the food. I’ve never been to any place like it, anywhere in the world.” She says, “The world is coming to us, and they are receptive to showing our provincial art.”

More than that, Sandy says, “It’s given me a great opportunity to meet and talk to artists all the time, so I’m not isolated… Creative people always bring something else (to the conversation)—humour or ideas or new sorts of intelligence. These are the people I want to be around.”

Time developing the gallery is time away from Sandy’s own art practice—“There’s a big chunk of time I can’t do anything but maintain life,” she admits—but last winter she was able to devote all her time to writing (a memoir) and sculpting. It’s fulfilling, she says, “to spend a good part of your day or week focused on something that’s just your own.” She has been working on a series of heads in clay—“working with really abstracted form,” she says. An extended time for art-making lets you “delve deeper and deeper into what you’re searching for.”

Finding form in clay is her greatest calling. “I always work in clay—even just to knead it and make sure it’s still pliable,” she says. “It just feels right. In clay, even though I work with tools, my hands are right into it. It’s like baking bread compared to baking a cake… I like it because it is a physical thing. I like the gallery that way too—I’m physically swinging a hammer.

Shaping the physical makes way for the ideal. “The way the world evolves, how you make change—art and social change—it’s all part and parcel, I think,” Sandy says. “I’ve always been a social activist. I was really aware of women’s inequalities in art school—who was represented in galleries, who was paid more… Inequalities still exist in who is spending time and making money on art. Across the board in almost every discipline, men are making more,” she says.

After working for many different women’s organizations, “work in the gallery was a step out into a different world—commercial gallery and retail,” Sandy says. This is still, Sandy believes, “choosing what kind of world you want to participate in,” an aestheticized world of art-making, appreciation, and ideal form.

Lovely Stories

The (Post) Mistress

Review by Jane Ledwell

“You see how these letters enter my heart!” laughingly laments post-mistress Marie-Louise Faucon, played by Martha Irving. The one-woman musical The (Post) Mistress by Tomson Highway is playing at the Victoria Playhouse where the audience can, indeed, see precisely how letters enter the small-town Ontario postmistresses’ heart and life, in a visually and musically satisfying production centred on an unmissable, tour-de-force solo performance by Irving.

Set in 1968 when people wrote letters, the arrival of mail in the fictional town of Lovely, Ontario, prompts Marie-Louise to read through the envelope, intuit, or imagine the contents of her neighbours’ letters and to sing their stories in a series of cabaret songs in English, French, and Cree. Marie is that dear friend you have who comes to tea to drop dozens of names you’ve never heard of and tell outrageous stories.

Gossipy, sexy, funny, odd, and familiar stories of love and heartbreak bring to life the neighbours’ lives, and, ultimately, that of Marie-Louise herself. There is little of life left uncovered in the songs — love, loss, betrayal, reconciliation, sex, and as Marie-Louise says with relish, the “blood, guts, and mayhem” of the human drama.

Whether the letters come from Rio, New Orleans, Trois-Rivieres, Val d’Or, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Saskatchewan, Montreal, Gatineau, or across town in Lovely, they are filled with affection, humour, or grief and are all, in one sense or another, love letters. They demonstrate how one heart is connected to another and one small town is connected to the much larger world.

When I interviewed Martha Irving last month, she told me why in her view PEI and Canada need more Tomson Highway. She said that Highway is “unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He has had a tumultuous life and chooses to live in the present, in the positive things… and he loves to hear people laugh.” Highway left theatre for a while and wrote a lot of cabaret songs he was unsure what to do with. “Then he got talking to a gossipy postmistress in Ontario,” she told me with a wink, “and thought, now I can put the songs together.” The play was ultimately a birthday present for his partner, she says, and so “it comes from a beautiful place of love.”

Irving said to me, “Judi Dench famously said she would never perform in a one-woman show,” — “I wouldn’t do a one-woman show. It would be death for me. I would not know who to get ready for,” Dench said — and Irving said, “I would have thought myself the same way.” But her love for the character of Marie-Louise Faucon has brought her back to this glistening staging of The (Post) Mistress, ably directed by Catherine O’Brien, who brings fresh choreography and perspective.

Music by Holly Arsenault and Ken Fornetran is tastefully complementary and never overwhelms Irving’s expressive voice. The versatile and effective set built and painted by Ron Quesnel and Jonathan Smith makes space for a township of characters, and the costume design by Kelly Caseley deserves special mention for its deceiving simplicity. How to fit the loose threads of so many characters’ stories and actions into one pliable costume?

If The (Post) Mistress is more than a slightly kooky assortment of songs and stories of life and love, it reveals its heart in a tender twist near the end that almost integrates the narrative. But Tomson Highway knows life and love are not tidy: they are messy and funny and finite.

All this must be animated by one actor’s performance, and if you love what theatre can do, it would be a disrespect to miss Martha Irving’s captivating, comic virtuoso performance.

In the blood

Profile: Martha Irving

by Jane Ledwell

Matha Irving (photo: pixbylorne)The best Christmas present actor, director, and drama coach Martha Irving ever received was professional stage makeup from her parents. “It was a realization I came to at about 13 years of age, that all my thinking—how I processed the world—was through the eyes of an actor. So I just started to build my life toward that.” The makeup kit was a sign that her parents—Island theatre cornerstone Ron Irving and visual artist Daphne Irving—supported her. 

“Theatre was in my blood,” she admits, “but you only become an actor if that’s what you have to do. It’s a calling. If it’s a calling for you, it is a very challenging but very rewarding life. My father was in the business, so I knew what it was. I knew I’d never make any money (and that’s important to know),” she laughs.

When she got that calling to act, “I was so lucky to be on PEI,” Martha says. “My father taught at Boston University when I was seven to twelve, and I didn’t really get involved in theatre. When we came back to PEI, there were opportunities at school, and in community theatre”—even touring shows. “There was a lot of opportunity for me because PEI was small and inclusive.” 

All the same, leaving PEI was as important as getting a start here, Martha recalls. “Here, I was ‘Ron Irving’s daughter.’ I had to do that (leave) when I was young, to get that independent identity.” 

Now based in Halifax, where she is co-artistic director of Lunasea women’s theatre company and continues her remarkable career on stage and screen, Martha is home on the Island this summer for the one-woman musical The (Post) Mistress by Thomson Highway, playing at the Victoria Playhouse. “I just love the character so much,” she says. The play, she says, “has a likable character and has music. It’s funny. It’s touching...”

Recalling her first time in the postmistress role, Martha says, “It terrified me to take this job.” The (Post) Mistress is a one-woman play: “There’s no connecting with a scene partner – the relationship is direct with the audience. Judi Dench said she would never perform a one-woman show, and I would have thought myself the same way...” But, she has discovered, “There’s a connection with the audience you don’t get with any other type of theatre. To be able to craft—and to craft for the audience that’s there that night—what they need,” is an incredible experience.

This will be her second summer in a row adding to offerings at Victoria Playhouse. After a “couple years’ break” from playing in The (Post) Mistress, Martha brought the script to Pat Stunden Smith at Victoria Playhouse as a good fit for their theatre. They agreed. “This is a new production, directed by Catherine O’Brien,” Martha says. “I’m looking forward to working with her, re-examining the script with her. I’m five years older, and I have five years more experience as a lens.” Catherine is also bringing her skills as a choreographer into the show, “an added element for me.”

Summers home are a recent tradition for Martha. “I hadn’t been on the Island in summer for about 18 years – summers are when actors are always working,” she smiles. Then, from 2008 until last year, she spent summers on the Island for Anne & Gilbert, most recently as director. That musical, she says, “was a reconnection to my roots – a charming and beautiful show,” and through the children’s chorus was “a great opportunity for teaching and coaching, a connection with kids. There’s so much talent on this Island!”

Martha says, “Because it’s an island, PEI is very protective of its culture. Newfoundland, Cape Breton, PEI—these islands are teeming with the arts. You find it on the front page of the paper, where you don’t as much in Halifax... On PEI, as my father and mother always say, there are 20 things to choose from every night. I feel lucky to be part of that.”

And when she comes home to act or direct these days, Martha’s father proudly introduces himself as “Martha Irving’s father.”

Events Calendar

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Some Upcoming Events

The Island Christmas Review

With Patrick Ledwell and Mark Haines December 5–8
Harmony House Theatre Christmas gives us permis [ ... ]

Sirens season

Women’s choral ensemble announces concerts for 2018–19 Select dates
Select locations Sirens is  [ ... ]

Yr. Obedient Servant

An evening with Samuel Johnson  November 22 | November 24
Watermark Theatre | Haviland Club Th [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Acadian showman

Profile: Christian Gallant by Jane Ledwell Forty-six musicians and step dancers took the stage at  [ ... ]

The St. Lawrence

The Cove Journal by JoDee Samuelson We lean against the rails as the Island slips by. Souris, Litt [ ... ]

The same mistakes

The Nature of PEI by Gary Schneider When I’m teaching the UPEI course on ecological forestry, I  [ ... ]